Delivering the Necessary "No"


It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.

– Steve Jobs

Yesterday I wrote about being prepared to say yes as a leader. However, just because you’re prepared to say yes, doesn’t mean you always should. There are certainly times—many times—when the right answer will be: No.

But how do you know the difference between saying no for a “good reason” and saying no because you’re too scared, tired or lazy to say yes?

Years ago I heard Josh McDowell say something interesting about the 10 Commandments. He said that behind every negative statement (thou shalt not…) there were always two positive intents—one of protection the other of provision.

That made a lot of sense to me and I’ve carried that forward into my leadership decisions. Every time I say “no” I test my motives by checking for those two intents:

1. Protection. My job as a leader is to protect my people and my organization so they can accomplish their mission. Any course of action that distracts them from their goal, dilutes their purpose, or puts them in unnecessary danger is unacceptable.

2. Provision. My job is also to provide for my people and my organization. Therefore I’ll veto any suggestion that fails to push them to be extraordinary, set them up for success, or help them realize their full potential. I won’t let them settle.

If my “no” isn’t motivated by providing and protecting my people and my organization, then I need to take a serious look at whether I should be saying no in the first place.

How do you know when to say no?

3 thoughts on “Delivering the Necessary "No"”

  1. Great post, Geoff. Jesus had a habit of following every negative command (no) with a positive one. In fact, Scripture is filled with examples of that technique. Be anxious for nothing (negative action)…but make your requests known unto God (positive action).

    1. Good point, Josh. I think that’s because we as humans can’t “do” a negative. Nature abhors a vacuum so you have to replace the void with something positive. If I tell you not to think of a red truck, the first thing that pops into you head is what? A red truck. But if I give you something else to think about, like a flying accordion, then you successfully accomplish the negative.

  2. Geoff
    Great post on saying no. Its important for leader to be able to say no. When I was on a leadership team at a church saying no was a must. If you only said yes you would be doing a lot and not be in your strength zones. Thank you for sharing.


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