Thursday, January 25, 2018

My Preferred Approach for Saying No

The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. Tony Blair

As I look through the recent “success” literature – everything points to learning how to say “No.”

I’m still mastering this skill, particularly in the face of the aggressive and demanding.

My favorite approach has 2 basic steps.

  1. “Give me (time), I will give you a response by (time, date)”
  2. Find a resource who will execute the request better than I would do it.


I had a chance to practice this recently with a prospective client.

They had a project that, frankly, I wouldn’t have done very well with.

The scope was huge, the timeline was aggressive, the skills required were not quite in my wheelhouse or in the wheelhouse of my immediate network, and I had grave concerns about the budget (too small) and the expectations around subject matter expert participation (as little as possible).

I had some options around how to address this request:

  1. Say “yes” and scramble to find the resources necessary to execute.  I didn’t have a good probability of success and the commitments I already had would have suffered.
  2. Say “yes” and play “prime contractor” – taking their money while not providing added value to them.   I know it’s a common practice, but it’s not the way I personally want to run my business.
  3. Say “no” and point them to the team who would be able to execute their request with quality because they do this every day and have the skills and resources rapidly available.

I chose option 3.

Did I “lose” a good opportunity to make a lot of money?  Probably.

Did I risk a client relationship?  Maybe.

Was it the right thing to do? Yes.

  • The client gets the skilled resources they need for their initiative.
  • The client can focus their budget on getting quality deliverables instead of expensive administrative overhead (which I would have been).
  • I get to focus on opportunities that are better aligned with my skills and resources.

I think it is much better to say “no” now, at the inception of the project, than to get well into it and realize that I should have never agreed to the request.  No one wins in that scenario.

Looking to get more organized in 2018?

I’d like to share a free PDF containing a useful personal prioritization exercise to help you get started.



I hope you can join me on this journey!

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