7 good reasons for a leader to say no

February 20th, 2018

I hate disappointing people.

And, every time I say the word “No,” someone isn’t happy with my answer.

That’s reality.

“Can you do a wedding ... this weekend?”

“Can you speak at my event?”

“Will you write a guest post for my blog?”

“Can I have an hour of your time ... today?”

“Will you mentor me?”

And so many more similar questions.

They are all legitimate questions. Usually there is nothing wrong with any of them as questions. And, many times I say yes to questions such as this. Many times.

But sometimes I don’t say yes. I say no. And I believe it’s one secret to my success in ministry and leadership.

I’d love for some of my friends who know they can’t seem to say no to be inspired, encouraged and challenged to use the word more. In leadership, even though it is an unpopular word, it may be one of the most valuable words we use.

The fact is I get far more requests for my time than I could ever accommodate. Ever. There’s only one of me. 

So I had no choice but to learn the power of saying no. And believe me, I’m still learning. Sometimes I do better than other times. It requires discipline.

Learning the power of no also means taking the heat at times from the ones who disagree with my answer.

I’ve learned, however, that my failure to say no costs me far more than developing a discipline not to always say yes.

Here are seven reasons for a leader to say no:

Your family.

A few years ago we had our then 87 year old Pastor Emeritus talk to our staff. He recently passed away, but served at our church 25 years before he retired. He and his family are still respected for their huge influence on our church. While there he admitted the way ministry is done has changed over the years, but one thing he wished he had known then and would encourages all of us still in ministry to do is to “protect the family.” He also said, looking back, it might have been more important than anything else he did in ministry. Golden wisdom!

Your work.

You can’t do everything and do everything well. You can’t. You may think you can — and others may think you should — but you can’t. Expectations, whether personal or placed upon us, do not dictate ability. Your efficiency depends on your ability to prioritize. In fact, you’ll likely burn out if you don't. Great leaders learn to specialize in what only they can do. That’s not always possible, and there are exceptions that arise every week that we didn’t see coming, but as much as possible, this should be our goal. When you say yes to everything, you’re causing your team to sacrifice your best energies where it’s needed most.

Your health.

How effective are you from a hospital bed? Think I’m being overly dramatic? Research the impact of stress on the body. Talk to your doctor about it. Developing a discipline of being able to say no when needed protects your personal health and well-being. It’s not just organizationally critical. It’s often life-critical. Saying no to another appointment so you can say yes to an hour in the gym may actually give you a few more productive years to add value to the world.

Your future.

You’ll flame out if you try to do too much. Leadership is a marathon. Sometimes we have to sprint, but until we learn to balance our pace we will never really accomplish all we could. The power of no provides fuel for longevity and continuance. It’s a vision-critical word. If you don’t start saying no to some things there may come a day when you crash hard enough that you have to say no to everything — and it may not be by choice.

Your integrity.

When you always say yes, you eventually put yourself in a position of being necessary for everything to succeed, if nothing more than in the expectations in people’s minds. The organization becomes built around you. “Yes, I’ll be there.” “Yes, I can do that.” In time, you become the center — the necessary ingredient in all things that matter. Wow! That is a dangerous place for most of us to handle. Talk about a power position. If not careful, we can become prideful, arrogant and boastful, thinking that the organization can’t exist without us. (Think about that when the organization is the church.) Here’s reality: It can.

Your example.

People will follow the leader. If you never say no your team will begin to think it’s not a culturally approved answer. They’ll suffer from all the things you’ll suffer from for always saying yes. And, believe me, a leader who learns and practices the power of no becomes a huge blessing to the people they lead — and their families.

Your soul.

This really is the bottom line. Leader, you have my heart. I love leaders. And, I know if you try to do everything — if you never say no — eventually you’ll injure your soul. You can’t do it all. Someone reading this right now knows they are overwhelmed. You are in over your head. You’ve allowed people to hold you to very unrealistic expectations — or you did it to yourself — and it’s injured your soul. You need a break. And, it all started because you couldn’t say no. You never valued the power of the word. The proverb is profound (and true) “Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Do it! Protect your soul!

Any questions?

Now, please understand, this post is not an excuse for doing what we need to do as pastors and leaders. Sometimes the answer has to be yes. And we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. Knowing how to choose the right word at the right time is part of maturing. It may be that one of the most valuable things we can do to protect the integrity and longevity of our leadership is to learn the power of the word no.

I’m praying for you. You can do it! NO is in you!

 Ron Edmondson blogs at RonEdmondson.com.

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