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Courage to say no

I wonder, what your view is of the word ‘no’? You have probably never been asked that before. It’s only a little word, one we use regularly. But does it have bad press with you? Or do you recognise the power it holds?

Think about the word, ‘no’. What image does it bring up? For some it conjures up the image of a toddler in a tantrum, slightly red faced as they spout the word, no’ with vehemence. Or maybe it is of a slightly awkward teenager asking out the girl he has admired on a first date, and watching the excruciating pain as he received the crushing blow of a ‘no’. Or maybe the panorama is an office setting as the young intern who finally realises that the dream experience that they have been longing for, has finally come up. He plucks up the courage to ask to be a part of it and is told, ‘no’ we have given it to your colleague as they will be better at it. In so many cases, ‘no’ does get a bad press. We maybe have been told off as a child for using it, which fuels the fire of negativity that can surround it.

But what if ‘no’ had incredible power for good too? What if having the courage to say ‘no’ could empower you as a leader?

Saying no to manage your time

There is so much that comes to us as a leader. So many things to do and often so little time. But we can also juggle with this sense that as a leader we need to make everything better. As a result, though, we often can end up with too much on our plate. Having the courage to say no, allows us to ensure we are not overloaded.

Saying no to improve quality

When we overload ourselves, we end up with too much to do. This can then mean that we either work longer hours to meet deadlines or we end up delivering the outcome at a later date than planned. Both have consequences. Working late means we get tired. When we are tired, we can make mistakes and miss things. If we deliver the project late then our reputation suffers because we have overpromised and under-delivered. So, when we have the courage to say ‘no’ or ‘not now’ we can maintain quality.

Saying no because it’s the best for your customer

About a year ago, I was approached by a headteacher to do some work for her leaders. I took time to ask her about the needs that she had and it was clear to me that what she needed first would be better served by a contact of mine, Lauren at Greenfields Education, who developed teacher curriculum knowledge, before my work on strategic leadership. So, although it meant missing out on a contract, I said “no, I think you need Lauren’s work first to get the best for your staff.” Taking a relational, rather than transactional approach, worked as a decision-making filter that allowed me to say ‘no’. This takes courage, but as a result of saying no in this context, you are putting the needs of your customer first.

Saying no to help the vision

One of the important things that we teach leaders is to spend time on the things that serve your purpose and vision. There will be many opportunities that come along and it is so easy to chase the work or the money. But if we do this, we can end up unhappy in our work, because it is not fuelling the things that we love to do. When we say no to things that are not aligned to the things that fuel our vision and purpose, we keep the ‘one thing, the one thing’. The vision fuels the activities and the activities fuel the vision. A diesel car runs on diesel. Put petrol in it and it chugs and splutters. Make your activities the thing that fuels you. Say no to the wrong fuel.

Decision making

So, how do you decide what to say no to? I think the following 4 questions can be helpful in this:

  • What do I gain if I say yes?

  • What do I risk if I say yes?

  • What do I gain if I say no?

  • What do I risk if I say no?

Your answers can vary for each situation, but some of the risks can be around time, impact on other projects already in place, impact on my health, impact on quality and impact on time spent on vision & purpose.

So, what do you think about now when you hear the word ‘no’? Does it get some slightly better press now? Does it fuel your courage to say no to the right things?

Everyday Leader is here to inspire and equip you. If you would like to explore the power of no and managing your time, quality and purpose, you may benefit from coaching with us.

Do let us know if we can be of help to you by contacting us at


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