A Culture of “No”

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leaders need to take great care to avoid creating a culture of no. There seems to be a popular movement afoot that believes the word “no” is the super antidote to the far inferior word “yes.” There are many well known axioms espousing the benefits of learning to use the word no with greater frequency. In fact, there are some very bright people that believe you cannot become a good leader without developing a mastery for using the word no as evidenced by the following quote from Tony Blair: “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes.” I couldn’t disagree more…In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on what I refer to as the fallacy of no.

Let me ask you a few simple questions: How do you feel when you’re told no? Does it leave you feeling positive about yourself? Does it make you feel like your contributions and opinions are valued? While inherently obvious, it should not go unnoticed that the use of the word no is 100% negative. The word no ends discussions, stifles creativity, kills innovation, impedes learning, and gates initiative. Put simply, the word no advances nothing, grows nothing, builds nothing and incentivizes nothing. No is not all it’s cracked-up to be…

Let me put it to you another way…If as a leader you find yourself always saying no, what does that tell you about your leadership ability? It means your vision is not understood, your team is not aligned and your talent is not performing up to par. It means you’re not teaching, mentoring, communicating, or leading.  The perception that strong leaders say no and weak leaders say yes is simply flawed thinking. A constant stream of “no’s” is not a positive sign, it’s a warning sign that needs to be heeded.

The most common reasons people tend to cite in support of using no is it helps to keep them from wasting time, that is somehow manages risk, and that it helps them focus by not biting off more than they can chew. These agendas are better accomplished with clear communication, effective collaboration, and prudent resourcing – not by saying no. Great leaders help people get to a yes – in other words, they teach them how not to receive a no. Rather than just kill something with a quick no, a good leader uses every  adverse scenario as a development opportunity to help people advance their critical thinking and decisioning skills. 

While I understand that there are times when using no may be your only option, those times should be the exception and not the rule. Bottom line…Yes is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of intelligent leadership. Next time you’re tempted to say no, do yourself a big favor and find a way to work around the obstacle and toward a yes.

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2 Responses to “A Culture of “No””


  1. 1 Honey B March 19, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for telling it like it is! This is the perfect description of the standard operating procedures of most municiple governments. Just think of all the wasted unproductive time that the tax payers support while civic employees work to save their jobs by bogging down efficiency, growth and innovation by the use of their favorite word “NO”!

  2. 2 n2growthmyatt March 31, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for the comment and the astute observations. I appreciate you stopping by.


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