How to say NO

How to say NO

Leadership is not a popularity contest. Sometimes this means disagreeing with the people who report directly to you and taking a stand on tough issues.

In my coaching work, I'm sometimes asked what to do as a manager when a direct report has strong opinions on a topic and you believe their

suggestions just won't work.

My teacher and mentor, Paul Hersey, a

behavioural scientist who co-developed the situational leadership

method, always taught me that leadership is not a popularity contest.

You, as a leader, have to remain focused on achieving the team's

mission. Sometimes this means disagreeing with the people who report

directly to you and taking a stand on tough issues.

On the other hand, my friend and colleague Jim Kouzes, co-author of the

best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, points out that

"leadership is not an unpopularity contest" either. Great leaders

focus on building positive, lasting relationships with the people they

lead - and should be sensitive to how their direct reports perceive


Is winning worth it?

Begin with a philosophy of doing what is right, while at the same time

involving and empowering great people. Then ask yourself a simple

question: "Is winning this battle worth it?" If you believe that this

is an important issue to the company, then stand your ground. If it is important to your direct report but

insignificant to the company, let it go.

Listen and think before responding. Sometimes, if you just back away

and reflect, you will see things from a different, and clearer,

perspective. If you can execute components of their ideas, do it.

Your direct reports do not expect you to do everything they suggest.

If you finally just disagree, respectfully let them know that you have listened to their ideas,

thought carefully about them and chosen not to execute them at this

time. Explain your logic, but don't try to prove to them that they are



Direct reports may be right

Chances are that all your lieutenants are generally bright and

interested in what they are doing, especially the ones who take the

initiative to make suggestions. The fact that your ideas differ from

theirs on this point does not always mean that they are wrong.

As difficult as it may be to believe, sometimes you are wrong. Thank

them for their ideas and for taking the initiative to present them to

you. Point out that well-meaning, intelligent people can disagree.

Don't win them all. Be open to going with your underlings' ideas when

you can, otherwise, they'll stop offering them up and you'll miss out

on the benefit of their talent and wisdom.

When a direct report disagrees with you - and prevails - support their

ideas, just as you want them to support your ideas when you get your


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