The Focusing Power of No

August 24, 2018 Scott Miller


Yes is easy. No is hard. Like really, really hard.

You’re loved when you say yes. You’re not so loved when you say no (at least in the short term…read on).

Fortunately, competent business leaders aren’t looking for love. Those kind of leaders run for public office.

Looking to be loved? Say yes. Looking to win? Say no.

I think there-in lies the challenge, people want to be loved, (or even just liked) and leaders are people too. But great leaders must say no, to nearly everything, every day. They must say no to people they like, hired, promoted, admire and have confidence in. They must say no to those same people’s dreams, pet projects, personal passions and legacies and many other seemingly logical and emotional pleas.

Disciplined leaders summon the stamina to listen….validate, and then say no. And also explain why.

They decide what will and won’t get funded, supported, sustained and focused on. Saying no is the most important tool a leader has. Specifically saying no to more. Because more is the enemy of winning.

Focus is now the name of the game. How few things can we become the best at, actually finish and win? This is enormously hard for leaders because typically they earned the role through…taking on more.   

Renowned researcher and author, Jim Collins, popularized the concept of BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) in his seminal book Good to Great and more recently, Chris McChesney and his co-authors, Sean Covey and Jim Huling took it a step further in FranklinCovey’s #1 bestseller The 4 Disciplines of Execution coining the term WIGs (Wildly Important Goals). Inherently, we know the likelihood of executing on more than a few (ideally 2-3) significant, high return goals is delusional.

Leaders must say yes with all their focus, budget, time, attention, passion and support to the fewest possibly goals. And summon the courage and the stamina to say no to goal number four.

People hate no. Until they see that your no is actually a gift to them. It brings focus and discipline to their lives. You’re really trying to help them win and feel successful. You’re actually bringing them balance. Sanity even. Peace. You are in fact offering them hope….and a path to win.

Saying no makes you loved….over time. Be patient and keep focused. They will see. No was in fact better than yes.


Gain a deeper understanding of the disciplines required to achieve your most important goals in the midst of daily urgencies. Register to attend a complimentary 4 Disciplines of Execution webcast. 

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott J. Miller is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Chief Marketing Officer for FranklinCovey. Scott has been with the company for 20 years, and previously served as Vice President of Business Development and Marketing. His role as EVP and Chief Marketing Officer caps 12 years on the front line, working with thousands of client facilitators across many markets and countries.

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