Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016


I am intrigued about the less commonly understood leadership skills that belong only or mostly to the CEO role.  Saying ‘no’ is one of these.

There is a dynamic similar to seeking the audience of the Queen or King that exists in our organizations no matter how we try to minimize it.  We may try to involve people and empower leaders  and flatten the organization but as long as our structures end up with one person in charge of the whole, the CEO is the ultimate power.

And so the CEO has to say ‘no’ most of the time and has to learn to say ‘no’ with skill.

There are huge ‘no’s that are said often and loudly and with exaggeration.  These have to do with strategy, culture and values.  Big, loud, speeches teach what people are supposed to say NO to in order to keep the organizational message clear enough to guide behavior at all levels.  The same is true for culture and values.  The CEO models every yes and no for these important mega issues.  Expensive wine at meeting dinners?  Yes or NO?
Embellishing the story just a little for an analyst call? Yes or NO.  Taking time for a large level of involvement in a decision?  Yes or NO?

And there are constant smaller ‘no’s’ to deliver. A ‘no’ is often heard and remembered  better than a ‘yes’ which is why the myriad of smaller ‘no’s you must deliver need to have a level of finesse.  How many ‘make nice’ meetings can you tolerate? Certainly not all that are requested. How many outside speaking engagements can you make? How many times can you say yes when asked “Do you have a minute?”

 The art of disguising a “no” as a kind of ‘yes’ matters.  YES I will meet with you by phone (which is a ‘no’ to lunch).  YES I’d love to speak but better yet my SVP is closer to the topic at hand (which is so ‘no’ in actuality) Every CEO figures out their own strategy for saying ‘no’. Another is to walk into other peoples’ offices so you can leave when you want is a ‘no’ to giving to much time to something. Staying standing when someone comes in your door is a nice ‘no’.

Think finesse, not sledge hammer. Most importantly, know when you are saying  
NO and know the impact of the negative, whether good or bad. 


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