The Power of Saying No: Why Good Leaders Set Boundaries and Embrace Authenticity

accountability assertive communication boundaries communication decision making emotional intelligence emotional maturity employee management feminine leadership honesty leadership leadership development leadership skills people pleasers power dynamics saying no self-awareness team dynamics team management Jan 29, 2024


In this episode of Leadership is Feminine, Kris Plachy dives into the concept of why good leaders say no. She presents her perspective on how saying no is a crucial skill for leaders, delving into the reasons why people often struggle with it. Kris unpacks the dynamics of people-pleasing and the underlying motivations behind saying yes when really meaning no.

Throughout the episode, Kris explores the impact of leaders' ability to say no on team dynamics and organizational culture. She also shares personal anecdotes from personal and professional experiences, discussing the effects of both positively and negatively delivered no responses from leaders.

The episode encourages listeners to reflect on their own ability to say no and its impact on their well-being and leadership effectiveness. So, think about it – do great bosses say no? Let's dive into the power of setting boundaries and being true to our authentic selves as leaders.

Whatever the reason that you're saying yes instead of no, we're going to get to the bottom of it. And we have to remind ourselves that no is a superpower and good bosses say no.”

Key Takeaways From This Episode

  1. Saying ‘Yes’ When You Really Mean ‘No’: Looking at the reason we are people pleasers and what saying ‘yes’ keeps us from

  2. Role of Emotional Maturity in Leadership: The importance of being honest and transparent in relationships and communication

  3. Creating a Culture of Accountability and Clarity: Setting clear expectations and boundaries for team members allows them to thrive

  4. Delivering Honest No's: Differentiating between mean, emotionally immature no's and deliberate, thoughtful no's

  5. The Personal and Professional Impact of Saying No: Recognizing the empowerment and authenticity, in all areas of life, that come from skillfully saying no

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Well, hello, hello, welcome, welcome to this week of Leadership is Feminine. Oh, happy new year. I am back from two incredible weeks in Hawaii. Super excited about the launch of the One Hour Leader - which we are in the throes of when you listen to this podcast - and really excited about 2024. Lots of cool things.

So today's Monday. It's my, "I don't talk to clients" day and I spend a little time. So I'm a little more casual today than normal in terms of, if you were to watch this video.

But I want to talk to you about something that I think is really important. And I want to talk to you about why good leaders say no.

So this is on the heels of lots of conversations with clients recently about being people pleasers. And I know that's a very common, maybe even overused term we're hearing a lot of right now. A lot of people self-diagnosing as people pleasers and all the things. I don't even know if it's a diagnosis. It's just a thing, right?

We all say, "Oh, I'm a people pleaser". Okay, fine. What does that really mean? That means you say yes when you mean no. And of course, the lie of people pleasing is that you're saying yes because you don't want to let other people down. But the truth is, you just don't want to deal with the disappointment, or their reaction to being let down. So instead, you lie and you say yes when you mean no. Be honest.

Because you don't want whatever happens, right? They question you. They get upset. They feel hurt. They make you feel guilty. They, whatever it is. So you say yes, because you don't want to make them feel bad, but really, you don't want to feel bad.

One of the new clients that I'm working with made this really funny comment in one of the first emails that we sent them about the One Hour Leader. And she said - we were hosting an information meeting and she said - "Well, if all the people pleasers are going to be wearing red, let me know. We'll wear red so that we all know who we are." Which of course I thought was so funny.

But in all seriousness, I want to talk to you about why I'm saying that good leaders say no. Now, this is a kind of a macro thing as much as it is also you to me. Like, if you worked with me on my team, this to me, this is an issue that stems much bigger than just you and the team that you're leading. I do believe this is a big issue.

So I think that we, in our reluctance to say no, because we don't want to disappoint someone, because we don't know how to deal with conflict, because we don't want to feel guilty, because we don't want to feel the disappointment that other people feel when we don't do what they want us to do. All the reasons that we say yes when we mean no, only serve to perpetuate an inability for individuals across the globe to feel their own feelings. And figure out what to do with them.

So the more that we practice, yes, when no is more in order, the more we're perpetuating the problem that people don't know how to handle it when they don't get what they want. And if there's anything that I hear a lot that my clients are dealing with right now, it's having team members not getting what they want. And not dealing with it well. And making a lot of noise when they don't get what they want, and sort of being pretty demanding about what they think they should have.

Now, that's not necessarily even your fault. This person you just hired three months ago, but it's a symptom of a much bigger problem. And that is, people don't say no to people. Parents don't say no to kids. Friends are not saying no to other friends.

"Hey, no, don't do that. Don't say that around me."

"Hey, no, I can't make it to your birthday party. I have other commitments."

We just don't say no. And of course, then we're all like perplexed why we're so freaking exhausted and overworked and over committed. So no is not cruel. No is honest. And it doesn't even have to be cruel. It's okay to not want to say yes. It's okay to not agree. It's okay to not want somebody to do that thing that they want to do in your company if that's not what they're here to do. They're here to do this. You have to say, "No, no, no, no, no, no. This is what you're here to do. This is the result I'm expecting."

I observe leaders, as you know, in every circumstance that I encounter, in my personal life, in my professional life, when I'm out at the restaurants, like, I notice that everywhere.

And I notice leaders who are incredibly accommodating to their detriment and then the work on the back end of that is a leader who is now furious, resentful, seething, because people keep taking advantage of her.

Okay, but you're the one who didn't say no, right? And just because you say no doesn't mean people don't still do things they shouldn't do. But at least we're starting to build some foundation for where you stand. If you say "Yes, it's okay." "No, it's not a problem." "Okay. No big deal." "Okay. Yeah. No, it's fine." If that's how you show up regularly, and then you start to say no, you have to understand why they're now notably angry about it. Because who's changing the rules? You are.

I've talked about this in different environments. We have a lot of people right now who haven't really had to experience hardcore no, and as a result of that, they don't know how to respond when they don't get what they want, and now they're working for you. I also observe leaders who are inconsistent with no. So they find no easier to say to some people, and they find no less easy to say to others.

Maybe they're intimidated by some people, so they don't say no. Maybe they have people on their team they don't really like that much so they say no more to them. Maybe they feel jealousy, so they say no. Maybe they feel envy, so they say no. Or maybe they just want to be liked, so they say yes. Whatever the reason that you're saying yes instead of no, we're going to get to the bottom of it. And we have to remind ourselves that no is a superpower and good bosses say no.

Now the other thing that I've noticed is just in watching and working with so many leaders, one of the things that I think is really critical is that in any relationship that you have, that you're honest, that if you don't agree with something that someone said, that you don't hold that and then go in another room and put that person's mouth on your lips, and they're not in the room to hear it.

So if I'm working with someone and they say something I don't agree with or I don't understand, I immediately ask for clarification. Like, "I don't think I understand what you just meant. That didn't feel right to me. Is that what you- I heard this. Is that what you meant?"

Now why am I bringing this up when it comes to saying no instead of yes? Because it's the same thing. Can you stand in position of what matters to you and hold it? And you don't have to be cruel. And you don't have to be mean. And you don't have to be dismissive. You don't even have to be anything. It's just pure. Like, "Hey, that felt off to me. That felt like a no. Did you mean it as a no? It didn't feel right. I think I misunderstood you."

If you are the CEO, if you're in a leadership role and you harbor resentment towards people, you are ineffective as a boss. I can't say it more plainly than that. Is this too tough? I don't know. Take it as you want.

But that, to me, is one of the most important things that we have to get clear as leaders is emotional maturity. Which means when somebody comes to me on my team and says, "Hey, I have this really great project idea. And I want to do this. And I want to do this. And I want to do this. And it's going to cost $200,000, but I think it's going to be great."

And you think it's a terrible idea and you know, it's not in the budget. Please don't say, "Oh, well, why don't you- don't say that." It's unkind. Because why? Because then you're going to be resentful that they did it.

We say to them, "You know what? I am so grateful for your creativity. I'm really grateful for your innovation. I love how you think. Unfortunately, right now, we don't have the time or the budget for that. But that is not a long term no, but it is a no for now. I need you to focus on these things. This is where we need your attention to be."

We have to do that. We are so programmed in our world and in our social circles to look at people and smile and then go back wherever we came from and say, can you believe that? But we said yes in the moment, or we certainly didn't say no. So why do good bosses say no? Because good bosses model emotional maturity. Good bosses model discernment. Good bosses model resilience. Good bosses model boundaries, clarity, consistency.

I am constantly shocked at how many people are in very significant leadership roles who don't tell other people, no. This goes, as I said, in the short term, little worlds that we're in. And in a big long term relationships and worlds that we're in.

If more people would practice this it wouldn't feel so uncomfortable when people say no, right? Just think about that. If we normalized saying no, if you got an invite to a party and you really just didn't want to go, you don't even have a good reason. You don't want to go. If we normalized not having to go to every family dinner, if we normalized not agreeing with every employee grievance or every request of your time, if we normalized telling people, "No. If you're late again, you won't work here anymore." if we normalized basic accountability, what would that do for you?

Because I know what happens, is you inherit a lot of these people who also work for people who didn't say no, and then they come work for you. And let's say you're working with me. You're in one of my programs and you're practicing accountability. You're working on holding people more accountable, on giving better feedback, on being more clear in your direction and your expectations and Joe, who you've hired, has really never worked in an environment... That's a drag for you.

Because now joe is gonna think you're the mean boss. Because you're saying no. You're saying this needs to be better. We're not telling you everything's great with our smile. We're telling you things need to be better, or this job is a no. It's a drag to be that boss. But I do believe if we all could promise to start to say just one more no, we really mean, I really do think it could change the planet.

It takes courage to say no. And it isn't so much courage about what happens externally that I think matters. It's about you knowing that you're going to feel guilt. You're going to feel disappointment. You might feel left out. You might feel shame. You might feel mean, unkind. I think it takes courage to be willing to feel those feelings and know that those aren't who you are, but you're practicing becoming more clear.

Great bosses say no, because not everything's a yes. And I know that sounds so rudimentary and simple, but it's true. Great bosses say no, because no's are like the bumpers on a bowling lane. When you're learning, no's keep people where they need to be. They keep people focused on what they need to be focused on.

And the truth is most of us like to know how to win. And if I'm working for you and you're really clear, all this part of the lane is 100 percent yes. Stick with the lane right here. If you go over here, it's a no, you're going to hit the bumper. I feel so much safer. I know how to win.

And one of the last things I'll say about it, and I'm speaking from my personal experience. I have worked for leaders who said no, who were mean at their no. They were mean, and the reason they were mean at their no is because they did it out of emotional immaturity. It was a reaction, not a response. It was out of their thoughts and emotions, either about me, or the work, or the circumstance. It didn't have anything to do with the actual request. So it can make me be afraid to say no. And it was for a long time. That was an issue because I didn't want people to think I was like them.

I've also worked for bosses who never said no. They said yes. Everybody walked in the room. "Oh, sounds great. Oh, that sounds great. That sounds good." Nobody knew what the hell they were doing. The environment, the culture, was a hot mess. Why? Everything was a yes. No expectations that were clear. No clear direction. No bumpers.

Then I've worked for leaders who were really good with their no, it was a, "No. And here's why." It was a, "Not right now, but I'll let you know." It was a, "That's a really lovely request. Thank you. I can't make it." And it was honest. And the leaders who I got no from, and I knew they meant it, and I knew it came from a clean place, those are the leaders that I still, to this day, trust more than anyone. Because they're honest.

It meant more when I got a yes. And I thought more when I got a no. I think when people get mean no's, nasty no's, emotionally immature no's, they don't absorb any of the reason. All they do is they go find someone else to talk to about it and blame you for how they feel. And the people who get yes from the leader, it's almost the same thing. There's no respect for the leader because you say yes to everybody.

And oftentimes people who say yes all the time, they don't actually show up. They don't deliver. They don't provide the resources. They tend to be the flakiest friends because they say yes to everything, right? I know you know who I'm talking about. So you stop eventually inviting them, right?

The leaders who can say no, who can be deliberate in how they say no, who are very thoughtful and consistent, that's a leader people want to work for. And I will tell you, I'll take that one step further. That's a leader that professional, accountable, self aware people want to work for. And those are the people I want on my team anyway.

So if I say no, And someone gets their panties in a wad. What am I supposed to say there? Something's out of joint, right? What is it? There's expressions there. Then they're probably not my people. Because I know I'm very unemotional in the way that I say no. I know that I think about it.

So if there's a really, really derogatory response to me. I understand, but I may not be their person because I'm going to say no, and I'm not going to change that. And the older I get, the clearer I get at that, especially now more in my personal life. Women are too committed to living to make other people happy. And I really want you to think about whether that's actually happening when you say yes all the time.

Because I know the one person who's not happy is you. You're frazzled. You're overwhelmed. And likely getting a little resentful of the people you keep saying yes to. So this week, say no. Say, "No thank you."

Say, "Oh, that's such a really good idea, but right now it's not a good time."

Say, "Hey, I know that we've talked a few times about you being late. I want to let you know. But going forward, if that happens again, we're going to start documenting your performance."

Say, "Hey, I know that you asked if you could be late tomorrow. Unfortunately, no, the answer's no." "I know that you want to take vacation in three weeks, but we've had four other requests. So the answer's no."

Say no. And watch what happens. Watch all the story that you bring into that. But I do believe that being able to say yes exuberantly, and no equally powerfully is a superpower. And that's you living into your true self. So what do you think? Do great bosses say no? Think about it. Let me know. Thanks for tuning in.

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