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Start the Year with “No” (#177)


The Confident Leader


With a new year upon us, it’s always tempting to turn over a new leaf by saying, “yes” to new goals and activities only to abandon them by February or exhaust ourselves trying to do it all. Let’s try saying “no.”

“I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Steve Jobs (American innovator)

This Week’s Edition

Some call it one of the most powerful words in the English language: No.

Clarify Your Thinking

“Robin, I’ve got so many things going, how do I balance it all?” 

“You can’t. Even Simone Biles can’t achieve balance 100% of the time and that is her job as a gymnast.”

“Then, what do I do?” 


The old saying goes, “if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority.”

By saying “yes,” leaders fall into the trap of trying to do everything (or expect their team to do everything). Without the guidance of a clear set of ranked priorities they often suffer the following negative consequences:

  • Overwhelm – “There’s too much to do.”
  • Missed deadlines: “I was working on another project.”
  • Lack of direction: “I’m not sure what to work on next.”
  • Poor decision-making: “I don’t know what’s truly important.”

Old Thinking: Everything is important. We have to do it all to survive. I’m not sure why the team doesn’t get that. What’s wrong with them?

New Thinking: I’m struggling with the fact that we can’t do everything, because it all seems vital to our success. However, I realize the toll it’s taking on the team… and on me as the leader. I’ve got to force myself to determine what’s truly important and say “no” to the rest.

Thoughts Lead to Actions

To keep their leadership on the track, leaders perceive that they must do more and say “yes” to almost anything all for a variety of reasons: 

  • Need to innovate and fear of missing out on a huge opportunity.
  • Pressure to please stakeholders, i.e., investors or board members.
  • Sheer miscalculation of true capacity.
  • Need for a short-term solution. 
  • Perceived lack of good alternatives. 
  • Fear of conflict – having to say “no” to a direct report.

Saying “yes” may seem like the right answer, but it can present unforeseen complications. Successful people say “no” to 90% of the requests that come their way.

Try doing the opposite. Say “no.”  Take these steps of reflection before you start the new year.

Step 1: Make a rank list of your priorities (clarity of those things aligned with the outcomes you want to generate).

Step 2: Allocate time on your calendar in January to focus on your top priorities (repeat for each successive month in 2024).

Step 3: Say “no” to the lowest priorities that consume a disproportionate amount of your time. 

With your priorities in hand, dust off that simple word “no” and wield its razor’s edge to whittle down your commitments and train your focus on only the most important priorities with a sense of urgency that will produce the outcomes you desire.

Boost Your Performance

There are plenty of good things we can pursue. When we over commit time (or resources) to too many “good” things it often comes at the expense of the great things we could accomplish. 

This leaves leaders feeling like they didn’t really accomplish what they wanted. They end the year feeling as if they didn’t quite realize their full potential. Not this year. Say “yes” to saying “no.”

What’s Your Opinion?

What will you say “no” to this coming year to make room for your larger priorities? Share it with me at

If you are going to be a leader, you might as well be a good one. Don’t let doubt count you out. Have a confident week!

Robin Pou, Chief Advisor and Strategist

We live to make bad leadership extinct so forward this newsletter to others who strive to be confident leaders. 


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What is “The Confident Leader”?

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, I began a video series called “Panic or Plan?” It was designed to equip leaders to navigate the doubt they experienced and to rise in the confidence they needed to lead during turbulent times. It took off. I then started this newsletter to equip leaders in the same fashion each week for the doubt that crashes across the bow of their leaderSHIP.