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Why leaders need to say no to be successful

Here are 5 variables to consider when deciding whether to say yes or no to something.

Why leaders need to say no to be successful
[Source photo: Monstera Production/Pexels]

Saying yes to every opportunity that comes up can help you achieve a certain level of success. However, continuing to operate from a place of automatically saying yes can often hold you back from achieving your next level of success, whether that be climbing the career ladder or running a successful company.

There are many reasons why people get into the habit of saying yes. But whether you say yes to open more opportunities, because of FOMO (fear of missing out), or to please other people, the negative impact is the same—you hamper your personal and professional growth potential.

Once you get into a cycle of always saying yes at work, it can be difficult to break out of it. Plus, the urge to completely fill your time can spill over from work into your personal life as well.

Overfilling your time, in a work context, can look like back-to-back meetings and continuously getting pulled into projects that you shouldn’t be, or don’t want to be, involved with anymore. Quite often, filling your time by always saying yes is not actually productive, because it is not sustainable and it wont contribute to your long-term growth.

According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of our activities produce 80% of our results. However, when you’re so busy running around, filling up your time, you rarely consider what you need to be doing to achieve your end objective in the simplest way.

The impact of this lack of space can be grave—your health starts to suffer; you feel exhausted and drained; and you may ultimately feel burnout.

Saying yes to everything also means that you don’t have the space to take on aligned opportunities, that is, opportunities that are part of the bigger vision of what you’re trying to create, and that you feel excited by. Saying no gives you the opportunity to invest your time wisely and advance your career goals thoughtfully.


1. Is this thing you’re saying yes to in alignment with your long-term vision? Oftentimes, people will say yes to things out of habit or comfort, FOMO, or fear, not because it gets them closer to what they say they want. If you don’t have clarity on what you want to create, reflect on this.

2. When you think about the thing you’re being asked to do, how do you feel about it? Do you think, Hell, yes, I am excited? Or is it bringing up a sense that you should or must say yes. As you become more successful, you make the most impact when you are working within what experts call your “zone of genius.” This is where you do the things you’re great at doing and enjoy doing.

3. If you are always giving your time to help other people, ask yourself whether you are trying to save them or whether that person is committed to helping themselves, too. You can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change—and it’s frustrating to try. So be conscious of that when choosing whether to give your time to someone and be very clear on your boundaries.

4. Sometimes, saying yes to something, especially if it is new or beyond your comfort zone, might seem challenging. In this case, this could be an opportunity for personal development or to learn a new skill. We often tell ourselves we’re too busy to do things that overwhelm us. So, if something is uncomfortable but you’re also excited about it and the potential it has to expand you, that may be a sign that you should probably make time for it.

5. Finally, will the choice you’re about to make improve your physical and mental health, based on what you need in the moment? For example, for a type A person, resting can be very uncomfortable, even if necessary. If you learn to listen to your body, you know what you need to do—whether that’s go for a walk, go to the gym, or simply rest and meditate. If you want to be successful, you need to create the space to hear what your body wants and needs.

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