This post is inspired by this John Maxwell post.
If you’re aspiring to be a great leader, you might be feeling a little whiplash. A few years ago, Sheryl Sandburg urged you to lean in. But a herd of management gurus are telling you that the only way to achieve your goals is by saying no. No. No. No. Establish boundaries and guard them fiercely.
I get it. I even subscribe to the Corollary to No: If it’s not “hell yes”, it should be “no.” Saying yes to projects you don’t really care about means your life will get filled up with busyness that feels like drudgery. But what about the projects that DO sound exciting? What about those times your intuition nudges you, whispering “this could be big?”
All the emphasis on the power of no makes me feel bad for people who view new opportunities with skepticism, even fear. They don’t say no from a position of empowerment; they say no because it’s easy. It becomes easier and easier until you stop listening to the voice inside you that might be really excited about a new project. Comedian John Mulaney says “It’s so much easier not to do things than to do them. Percentage –wise, it’s one hundred percent easier not to do things than to do them. It’s amazing that anyone ever does anything.”
I’ve seen plenty of people who are afraid to say yes. They guard their schedules like a mother duck guarding her fragile newly-laid eggs. “I just don’t have time for more meetings.” “I have a new project that will take up the next few months.” “I have to manage my commitments to stay sane.” All reasonable answers, and good practice for maintaining balance in your life. Also for maintaining the status quo.
New ideas, new projects, and new opportunities are sparks struck from someone’s imagination (or someone’s problem that needs solving.) Like real sparks, they die out quickly unless someone takes a moment to breathe onto them, giving them the air they need to catch fire.
Jon Maxwell describes a meeting where someone (surely a very busy executive) dared to say yes.
“Not too long ago I cast vision to a group of leaders. There were several people in the room listening as I talked about the possibilities of partnership, and how joining together could make a significant difference in the world.
After speaking to the group at large, I met with a handful of those leaders in private. We were in the green room, and the conversation turned to the possibilities of partnership and pushing a little deeper on the details.
I’ll never forget how, as the energy in the room began to build, one of the leaders stood up and said, “John, the answer is yes. Count me in. Whatever this means, I am a yes.”
With that one declaration, the room exploded, and everyone jumped onboard with the vision. After things died down, I pulled that leader aside for a chat. After thanking him for his positive commitment, I had to ask: “What made you respond so boldly?”
He answered: “I live on the other side of yes. That’s where I find abundance and opportunity.”
When was the last time you stood up in a meeting (or anywhere) and said boldly, “I’m in”?
Nothing changes unless someone starts something new. It’s uncomfortable to say yes – especially if you’re the first to speak. It’s much more comfortable to say no. No seldom does harm. No keeps things manageable. No doesn’t make waves. But waves are what carries you forward.
Have you ever wished your career, your life, were more interesting? Do you wish you’d done more, made more, lived more?
John Maxwell writes: “A life of creativity can be yours, but only if you move past fear and learn to seize the opportunities in front of you. Slipping free from our comfortable no and living on the other side of yes is the best way to make the necessary shift to abundance.”