On the shelf behind my desk is a sign that reads…..”No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.” That sign has stood by me for twenty-two years, traveled to three different cities, and weathered countless looks from me after some very challenging conversations. This past week I received an email from an old friend of mine who I had not heard from in over fifteen years. That friend was my mentor, the principal who not only helped me earn my first assistant principal job, but the one who gave me the sign and those personal words of wisdom which have carried me through many lonely moments when I sat alone at the end of a long night and questioned my decisions.
This morning when I walked into my office to catch up on some work from the past week I took the sign off the shelf and held it in my hands. I thought about my good friend Mr. A, who served as my principal and would later become Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. For nearly fifteen minutes I reflected on my early days and the challenges I faced as well as the past four weeks since this school year began. Ironically, what I realized was that some of the issues we faced back then are still hot buttons we face today, such as addressing matters of discipline, grades, staff concerns, playing time in sports, and countless other issues. This tells me that we have a tremendous opportunity every day to reinforce life lessons which matter to all of us, regardless of the generation we are serving.
What I have learned is that often those lessons begin with the word “no.”
Here are 5 things we can take away from having to say “no” when it would be easier to just say yes.
- One of the most difficult things about being a leader is saying “no.” There are moments when being a leader will require us to have to say no. Accept the fact that at times saying no will make others react in a negative way that will sometimes be hurtful. You will never be the leader you want to be if you say yes in order to avoid a negative reaction.
- Pay attention to how you say “no” & what you do afterwards. In those situations when we can anticipate an emotional reaction forthcoming to the word no, let us pay closer attention to how we say no so it doesn’t become more about us than about our response. Additionally, regardless of how the message was received we should always take time to follow up with the individual/group whose request was denied. By doing so it tells the other person/group that you understand and respect their feelings of frustration and disappointment.
- A response of “no” doesn’t always mean we are right. Holding the power to make the final decision doesn’t translate to us always being right. In these moments it is important that we control what I call our “emotional persistence,” so our need to be right doesn’t jeopardize our credibility as decision makers.
- Dealing with stressful situations is a part of saying “no.” We must expect that we will often experience some level of disappointment, frustration and emotion when our response to others does not result in the positive response they were hoping to receive. How we handle these encounters will begin to determine how we manage our levels of stress in the future which can play a part in how we are perceived as leaders. Accept the fact that our work as leaders is stressful, but how we manage that stress is determined by us.
- Sometimes when we say “no” a deeper relationship is formed. A takeaway I continue to experience from the reactions I receive to saying no is that I often end up pleasantly surprised when I receive an apology afterwards. It serves as a reminder that the relationships that we form over time play a significant role in the initial dialogue and those relationships can be even more deeply rooted if we manage ourselves appropriately after the initial reaction even if we feel it was not deserved.
Although there are moments I wish I could just say yes in order to avoid the stresses that come with saying no, I must continue to remind myself of all of the good that comes from doing the right thing as opposed to the easy thing. More importantly, I recognize the value that comes with taking time to reflect on my decisions as a leader knowing that I won’t always get it right even when I say yes. And when I don’t get it right I need to make it right by accepting the fact that I erred in my original decision.
The irony is that at that moment I may find myself wishing I wouldn’t have said yes.
Hmmm….the challenges of leadership and making decisions. No one ever said leadership was easy.
“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” – Tim Ferris