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Why You Need to Stop Saying Yes to Everything

When your company becomes bigger than a scrappy start-up, saying yes can really hurt growth. Here's why.

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Many businesses stall out simply because of their visionary leaders' inability to get out of their own way.

It's as if they can't help themselves. After their initial success, the visionary leader becomes a liability to the greater growth of the business. They seem compelled to meddle, interfere, radically switch direction, and generally act like an arsonist. All the while, they are subconsciously sabotaging their own success and that of their business.

Does this sound like you or someone you know?

Do you (or they) have a seeming inability to say no to the next idea, the next bright shiny object? Do you fear that by saying yes to everything that comes your way you might be getting in your own way and impairing the growth of your business? 

If so, here are the four key steps to getting out of your own way by learning to say no by learning to not say yes.

1. Don't say yes when you're alone. Ah, yes. The benefits of owning your own business: unexpectedly meeting a charming individual over dinner and hiring the person for a senior position without consulting anyone else; learning over breakfast that a competitor is for sale and negotiating heads of agreement before lunch; spending a week in a beautiful city and deciding to open an office there.

The truth is, most entrepreneurs don't start businesses primarily for the financial reward (though that's obviously important). They do so because of a fierce drive for independence and autonomy, and saying yes to their whims is one of the most important ways of expressing that fierce autonomy.

The problem is, as the business grows and becomes more complex, what was once a quirky individualism becomes instead a disruptive annoyance. Hiring people, opening offices, acquiring new lines of business--all things that in the early days fueled the growth and success of the smaller business--now act like mammoth rocks thrown into a small pond.

2. Don't say yes when someone else has said no. Divide and conquer. It's the oldest trick in the teenage book of parent-manipulating tricks. If Mom has said no, go ask Dad instead or vice versa. 

Organizationally, divide and conquer appears in many guises: personal appeals from key employees to be exempted from the systems and processes everyone else is subject to; Big Dogs seeking approval for pet projects they know will be turned down if they go through the regular channels; managers pleading special treatment for their team members. And because you're the top banana, you're the one they go to, knowing that a yes from you trumps anything anyone else may say.

Except that, of course, your yes also creates confusion, annoyance, tension, and a loss of credibility for everyone concerned.

3. Don't say yes when your team has already said yes. I see it all the time: A senior management team puts a strong, creative initiative in place, and hours later, their visionary leader comes up with another, even more creative initiative for everyone to work on.

Of course, this second initiative doesn't directly compete with the first--that would look too crass, too petty on the part of the visionary leader. But the net result is the same. The team's resources are stretched, the organization's focus is diluted, and neither initiative delivers the success it should. 

4. Master the "silent reentry." The worst time to be around a visionary leader? Mondays after they've had a long weekend, attended a conference or other event, or, worst of all, a lengthy vacation.

With all that time to think and percolate, and possibly hypercaffeinated by reading the latest fad business book, they return to the office boiling over with new initiatives, new approaches, new passions.

All of which everyone else has to sandbag, smiling enthusiastically while using every trick in the book to avoid actually implementing any of this stuff, knowing as they do from long experience that their boss's new-found enthusiasms will wear off after a week or so.

Discipline yourself to reengage after absences in listening, rather than broadcast, mode. Find out what happened while you were away. Instead of dropping all your new ideas on everyone, identify one or two things that others did in your absence and reinforce those. If your new-found enthusiasms are truly important, they'll still have value--and will attain much more credibility--if you quietly introduce them a week or so later, rather than in an all-staff meeting moments after your re-arrival.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Aug 20, 2012

LES MCKEOWN is the president and CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company. McKeown is the author of the bestseller Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization on the Growth Track--and Keeping It There. His latest book is The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success.
@lesmckeown




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