I used to take pretty much any opportunity to influence people – speak to a group, consult with a church or coach a leader needing direction. It helped to develop me. People gave me a shot, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Although I needed to grow my craft and gain experience, at times, this impulse of taking advantage of every opportunity left me threadbare.
Today is a very different story. I have to choose opportunities very carefully. I love my four kids and wife dearly. I take my coaching work with leaders very seriously, and our team at Stay Forth has grown and is living out our crucial mission to help leaders get healthy and reach sustainable impact. I’m grateful to have more good opportunities coming my way, but this means I have to say no more often in order to protect the things and people I am committed to.
Decisions used to be between no opportunity and an opportunity, but now they are between good opportunities and the best opportunities. No one tells you these tough decisions are coming as a leader, and none of us starting influencing people so we could say no. It’s disorienting. Excellence brings options and options require tough decisions.
Many people are exhausted and heading toward burnout because they are unwilling to make the tough decision to say no. Elimination may be the single biggest tool to keep you healthy and sane. But it’s hard. It requires discipline, and it’s hard to disappoint people. Healthy and successful leaders I know have to come to terms with saying no. They’ve learned to eliminate the good to get to the best. Scripture calls this pruning. You may start with five seeds in the dirt, but if they crowd each other they’ll become anemic or die.
Leaders must create filters for what they let in and what they let out. This includes content we ingest, travel opportunities, tasks we accept and regular meetings. The best way to get your life back is to revisit your priorities and make decisions based on them. You will disappoint people eventually, I recommend doing it proactively. Good opportunities are everywhere, and are blocking you from amazing opportunities down the road.
How do I actually do this when an opportunity arises?
1. Develop a filter for what you’ll say yes and no to (ahead of time)
2. Give yourself time to decide on an opportunity. If you wait, excitement cools down, you can get all the information about the opportunity and you can make a wiser decision.
3. Involve others in your decision. Talk to your spouse, team, wise friends and your coach. Share your priorities in this season and your values.
4. Create benchmarks. How often will you take a work trip? How many people will you coach? How many people can “pick your brain” every month? How often will you do your work pro bono? Decide ahead of time and the decisions get easier and less emotional.
A quick review…
Make decisions ahead of time based on your priorities.
Share these filters with others.
Turn this into a repeatable process.
As you prune opportunities your engagement will rise.
Resources to consult
Episode 254 is focused fully on saying no. The book Effortless by Greg McKeown explores this topic in depth.
Questions to answer
What’s on my “to don’t” list?
What good opportunities do I need to start saying no to?
What amazing opportunity am I moving closer to?
Director of Culture and Coaching
Alan is a mountain guide for the leadership journey. He loves outdoor adventures, but the greatest adventure of his being a father and husband. Alan is crazy about helping hungry leaders conquer overwhelm and navigate with courage. He serves leaders and organizations around the country through coaching, speaking, consulting, designing experiences, hosting mastermind groups, writing his own books and ghostwriting for others. He co-hosts Right Side up Leadership Podcast and regularly writes for Outreach and Field Notes .