Recently, I was coaching a senior leader who was exhausted and frustrated in her job. I listened as she revealed her strategy for success:
“I’ll juggle more and say yes to opportunities that show up, otherwise I might be looked over next time or viewed not competent, not capable to handle it. And I don’t want to disappoint anyone especially when I know how to do it.”
She had spent years developing her skills and expertise and, by agreeing to do more, she was demonstrating her competence and value to the organization. She didn’t want to be passed over. She would accept new projects and tasks without hesitation.
The tendency to say yes to the requests of colleagues, clients, family and friends to be seen a good person, keep the peace, and make everyone happy is tempting. It also fuels our deeper need to be viewed as someone who has value and worth.
Saying yes and doing more than we have capacity results in over-commitment and, eventually, exhaustion. It’s not a sustainable strategy for success. A recent Gallup poll reveals that only 32% of people in the U.S report being engaged in their work. This is no surprise: if we’re over-committed and depleted, it is hard to be engaged. When we’re habitually saying yes to substantiate our worth or to avoid unpleasant emotions such as shame or fear of rejection that might come with saying no, we become trapped in a cycle of depletion.
Here’s the ironic part, too: when you take on more than you have the time or energy for you end up delivering less than you normally would. This influences how we are seen by others and the trust we produce with our colleagues and in ourselves.
Leaders and professionals have likely developed expertise and competency in multiple areas. Determining where our skills can best be used to take care of what really matters changes everything. It becomes easier to see where our efforts will be most valued and effective. Being competent does not mean it’s yours to do.
From a leadership standpoint, everything begins with your why and determining priorities. Essentially, what is important? What, if you put your focus and attention on will have the most leverage? How about your team? If you’re not spending time focusing on what matters most, you can still be very busy but, busy doesn’t equal performance or desired results.
As leaders we are often pulled in a lot of different directions — meetings to e-mails to more meetings to staff challenges to hitting financial targets. Before diving straight into something without considering how truly important it is-stop and think about your highest priorities. Pausing gives you space to evaluate the context and whether something is really a priority. This moves you towards a conversation, which can include:
- Am I the best person to do this?
- What would be my contribution here?
- How can my team more effectively use their time?
- Who else needs to be involved? Who doesn’t?
- Is this better for another team?
- What’s the end goal and how will we know when we reached it?
We enhance our effectiveness as a leader when we develop our ability to manage our commitments. We build this skill by pausing to check in “how much time will this commitment take and do I have time to do it”?
Learn to manage your commitments
If you are asked to take on an additional project consider what this will involve. Make an assessment of how much time this will take and then determine if you have the time. If it’s a yes then look and see where you may need to offload and renegotiate previous commitments. Is there a conversation you need to have with your team? Is there someone else who can help you?
When you’re clear on what your key priorities are and learn how to manage your commitments, your team will also be more effective.
Many of us struggle to say no when we’re asked to take on an additional project or task; saying yes is much easier than declining. Consider what is provoked when you want to say No but say yes instead? Learning how to say No also gives us an opportunity to say yes to what we really to focus on. Another move is “No, not now” and make a counter offer to do it later or delegate find someone else who may be equally competent and have the capacity to take it on.
Afraid to Say No To Good Ideas?
Some ideas are excellent, amazing, and potentially revenue-driving — but at this moment, they don’t align with your priorities and you need to say no. If they’re truly good ideas, they’ll come back around when the bandwidth is better for you and your team. If you say ‘yes’ to everything, the results of everything will ultimately be diluted.
Be In Conversation
Leadership means we are working with people not in isolation. Develop a rhythm for conversation with your team about capacity; raise awareness and ask questions
- This is an exciting new project, how much time will it take complete?
- Do we have the time and energy to do it well? If yes, do we need to put something else on hold?
And role model checking in when you get a quick yes to a request. Is it a trustworthy yes? Did they pause to see if they actually have the time? Are there other commitments that will be bumped off target or not finished?
The next time someone makes a request or you are about to offer to help, pause. Before saying yes think through what commitments you’ve already made, including to take care of you and your well-being. Ask yourself “If I say yes to this, what do I need to say no to or put off so I can do this?” That’s the opportunity cost of anything at work and in life — we all have the same number of hours in a day, so let’s make sure we pay attention to how we use them.