Leadership includes saying no

May 13, 2008

I was told recently that a big part of leadership is listening. That’s true of course.

I actually think a bigger part of leadership, however, means learning how to say no. No to distractions, no to the nay sayers and no to feature creep.

Being able to say no is a very empowering and important leadership quality I have only just begun to learn. It is a super hard skill to master. Particularly saying no to the right things in the right way. Saying yes is far easier.

The problem with saying yes to feature creep is that you end up a big blob trying to do everything while actually achieving nothing.

The problem with saying yes to any and all criticism and changing your behavior is that you often end up being put into a corner by other people’s expectations. You end up trying to please everyone and you actually achieve nothing. You never break through expectations, passive and active resistance and the ‘old way of doing things’. It’s said if you have a genuinely good or original idea you will often have to drag people kicking and screaming to your way of thinking before they will get it. You can’t do that if you give way to any and all criticism.

Like with all things a balance needs to be struck. Each of us, as leaders of something in our lives, need to be clear about our end goals; our vision. We need to continue to execute on our daily tasks with true north in our sights.

Balance is particularly important in today’s political climate. There is far too much extremism going on from all sides of the political spectrum. For example ‘staying the course’ is not a call for balance, it’s a call for stubbornness.

The course may (and must), of course, involve all sorts of corrections to account for criticism, new scope and other changes ‘on the ground’, but being able to say no to major deviations when you still believe in the final destination is a mark of true leadership.

5 Responses to “Leadership includes saying no”

  1. Maxine! Says:


  2. Nono Says:

    Feature creep! OMG, if you don’t learn how to say no to “Feature creep”, you’ll write code forever and never release.

  3. Hup Says:

    Great points made here, Chris. One of my old mentors always said that saying no is actually one of the simplest things things to do in theory, but one of the hardest things to do in practice.

    But, most things that make you a great leader are as well (telling the truth, finding clarity in situations, getting people’s true opinions, etc.)

  4. Joseph Says:

    I need to say yes for this article. It is true that being accommodative pleases the other parties in the short term, in the long term it will fire back at us.

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