Leadership lessons: say no early

Here’s a leadership lesson that I took way to long to learn.

Say ‘no’, early.

Like you, I’m a conflict avoider. I say, ‘like you’ because everyone avoids conflict (except sociopaths). It’s just a natural phenomenon. The undulation of rivers is a testament to the way conflict avoidance is baked into reality.

However, the problem with avoiding conflict is that it also avoids resolution. Decisions unmade are decisions that loom. They overshadow relationships and conversations. They are the elephant in the room. (Smaller unmade decisions may be more like goats than elephants, but don’t underestimate the power of a goat to distract from the business at hand.)

In any leadership role, there are times you need to say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ is hard, so we put it in our diary, or our task manager, and then avoid it. We manage to find endless alternatives to productively fill our time, such as the urgent demands of email.

Leader, here’s the news: people prefer clarity over agreement. We would rather hear ‘no’ today than ‘maybe’ in 6 weeks’ time.

This, then, is the lesson. Listen well and prayerfully. Seek wisdom. But if, by then, you know your answer is ‘no’, then say ‘no’, early. Say it today, rather than tomorrow.

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