Your work. You can’t do everything and do everything well. You can’t. You may think you can—and others may think you should—but you can’t. Expectations, whether personal or placed upon us, do not dictate ability. Your efficiency depends on your ability to prioritize. In fact, you’ll likely burnout if you try. Great leaders learn to specialize in what only they can do. That’s not always possible—and there are exceptions every week of things that arise that we didn’t see coming—but as much as possible, this should be our goal. When you say yes to everything, you’re causing your team to sacrifice your best energies where they’re needed most.
Your health. How effective are you from a hospital bed? Think I’m being overly dramatic? Research the impact of stress on the body. Talk to your doctor about it. Developing a discipline of being able to say no when needed protects your personal health and well-being. It’s not just organizationally critical—it’s often life-critical. Saying no to another appointment so you can say yes to an hour in the gym may actually give you a few more productive years to add value to the world.
Your future. You’ll flame out if you try to do too much. Leadership is a marathon. Sometimes we have to sprint, but until we learn to balance our pace we will never really accomplish all we could. The power of no provides fuel for longevity and continuance. It’s a vision critical word. If you don’t start saying no to some things—there may come a day when you crash hard enough that you have to say no to everything—and it may not be by choice.
Your integrity. When you always say yes, you eventually put yourself in a position of being necessary for everything to succeed—if nothing more than the expectations in people’s minds. The organization becomes built around you. “Yes, I’ll be there.” “Yes, I can do that.” In time, you become the center—the necessary ingredient in all things that matter. Wow! That is a dangerous place for most of us to handle. Talk about a power position. If not careful, we can become prideful, arrogant and boastful—thinking that the organization can’t exist without us. Here’s reality: It can.
Your example. People will follow the leader. If you never say no your team will begin to think it’s not a culturally approved answer. They’ll suffer from all the things you’ll suffer from for always saying yes. And believe me, a leader who learns and practices the power of no becomes a huge blessing to the people they lead—and their families.
Your soul. This really is the bottom line. Leader, you have my heart. I love leaders. And I know that if you try to do everything—if you never say no—eventually you’ll injure your soul. You can’t do it all. Someone reading this right now knows they are overwhelmed. You are in over your head. You’ve allowed people to hold you to very unrealistic expectations—or you did it to yourself—and it’s injured your soul. You need a break. And it all started because you couldn’t say no. You never valued the power of the word. The Proverb is profound (and true), “Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Do it! Protect your soul!
Now, please understand, this post is not an excuse for not doing what we need to do as pastors and leaders. Sometimes the answer has to be yes. And we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. Knowing how to choose the right word, at the right time, is part of maturing. But it may be that one of the most valuable things we can do to protect the integrity and longevity of our leadership is to learn the power of the word no.
I’m praying for you—you can do it—NO is in you!