I’ve been that guy. I wanted everything to run smoothly so I would do as Nancy Reagan did and “Just Say No.”
Years later, in my rearview mirror, I realize by saying “No” too quickly, I damaged my team and the individuals on my team. I missed opportunities to develop better decision makers and therefore better leaders.
What was it about me as a leader that made me say “No” so quickly? I usually had 1 of 3 excuses for saying “No” and none of them were good.
This blog is reposted from October 2012.
3 Poor Reasons To Say “No”
1. “No” Is Easy To Say
“No” is quick. Too often, the presentation of the idea dragged on longer than I was comfortable with so I gave a quick “No”. Honestly, I had made my decision in the first few moments of the presentation, and I did not need to hear much more.
Each time I did say a quick “No”, I saved myself some time. But, I side-stepped opportunities to coach. As a leader, a major part of my job is developing others.
What am I using my time for if I am not coaching the people who report directly to me? I often let projects and administrative work cause me to hurry past these coaching opportunities.
2. I Already Know The Result
Part of the reason I got paid the medium bucks was because I had the experience and/or the foresight to see problems before they happened. When an idea was brought to me, I often knew the result and that would prompt me to say “No”.
Again, by saying “No” I missed a coaching opportunity. At this point, I should have been asking open ended questions to help decipher the person’s thought process. Perhaps there was a better answer hidden inside their idea that they had not fleshed out yet. By saying “No” I would never find that out.
3. It’s Not The Way I’d Do It
Despite my firmly held belief that there are multiple ways to solve most problems, my ego often made me say “No” because someone proposed a solution different from my own.
I had to train myself to not say “No” in these cases. Someone else’s solution may seem less logical or efficient to me, but it does not make it wrong. The coaching opportunity comes after the fact in this case.
If their idea was in fact less efficient, then it is their experience that they will remember and not my lecturing. Coaching is a lot easier and memorable after a less than perfect result.
3 Alternatives To Saying “No”
1. “Tell me more…” –Ask For Their Thought Process
When I am tempted to say a quick “No” I’ve found asking someone to walk me through their thought process is a great way to diagnose a coaching opportunity.
Now I am coaching the decision making process. If I develop better decision makers, better results will follow. My projects and administrative work will have to wait.
For leaders, people should always come before projects and administrative work.
2. “Yes, if…” –Join Them In Making It Better
“I see what you are trying to do, but how can you make this better?” Again, I like to challenge their thought process. In this role, I am now using my experience and foresight to partner with them to finding a better solution.
3. “Yes”–Let Them Make Small Mistakes
If no one is going to be injured or killed then I let people make mistakes. People learn and remember more through experience then they do through theoretical learning. Until they try something and fail, my coaching is still all theory to them.
Read more on allowing mistakes: Mistake Proof Equals Growth Proof
The Bottom Line:
A leader who says “No” all the time is setting himself up to be a micromanager. Each time a leader says “No” he is developing a habit within his team that will force all decisions through him.
The side effect of that sort of culture is that people will stagnate below him. When they aren’t allowed to make decisions or are not coached on how to make better decisions the leader has set them up for mediocrity.
“No” may be quick. The results may seem obvious. Or their solution may not align with my way of thinking. But, these are poor excuses for saying “No”. Managers give only “Yes” and “No” answers. Leaders coach others to make wise decisions.
I want to be a leader. My dad, General Jim Anderson, used to say, “The true mark of a leader is what happens when he is not around.” If I have to be around to make all the decisions, then when I am gone, nothing will happen. Nothing is not the mark that I want to leave.
What is another alternative to saying “No”?