When to Say No to Leadership


“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” – Tony Blair

During the past few weeks I’ve been asked to accept leadership positions in various ministries that would be challenging and to be honest fun! I would love to help these groups, but is saying yes the right thing to do? In my experience, I have seen over and over again how critical the ability to say “no” is to the effectiveness and impact on ministry. The people that strategically selected and tightly focused their activities will invariably be more successful at achieving their goals than those that do not.

Leadership is about focusing on the mission God has given you as a leader. In achieving focus, leadership is implicitly saying no to all the other things, often good things, that might be calling for attention at the same time.

Ron Edmonson has listed seven reasons leaders should learn to say no:

  1. Saying no is the power to help resist temptation…
  2. Saying no keeps you from the stress of overcommitting…
  3. Saying no protects family life…
  4. Saying no provides adequate time for what matters most…
  5. Saying no preserves energy levels for prioritized work…
  6. Saying no allows others opportunities they wouldn’t have if you always say yes…
  7. Saying no permits you to control your schedule for an ultimate good…

Leaders must be disciplined, however women tend to have an especially hard time saying “no.” Some are so eager to please that they won’t turn anyone down. Others are so concerned about inclusiveness that they’re reluctant to leave anyone or anything out. Still others are averse to conflict, so when there’s disagreement about what the priorities should be, they try to find a way of making everything fit. When leaders fail to say “no,” ministries can no longer do anything really well. By diffusing resources instead of concentrating them on a well-defined area of focus, these leaders limit their effectiveness.

Leaders will know that they have reached a new stage of maturity when they turn down an almost irresistible opportunity because it would have diverted resources from their most important goals. Saying no isn’t easy, but it is often the right thing to do.

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