The longer I’m in leadership, the more I realize so much hangs on the ability to say no.
I don’t like saying no. It’s hard to say no to your kids, to people you like. Honestly, it’s even hard to say no to the people you may not be as fond of.
As a leader, it’s hard to say no to opportunities and to possibilities. It’s hard to say no to just about anything.
When you start out in leadership, there tend to be few opportunities, so it’s easy to jump at whatever comes your way. I had time to respond to everyone who wanted a visit, needed advice or wanted a slice of my time.
And I loved studying ministry models and ideas. When you have no plan, every idea sounds like it could get you somewhere.
But most of us reach a point where the opportunities outweigh the time available:
- Your ministry grows, and suddenly where there were 100 people hoping for your help before, there are now 500.
- More outside leaders are asking questions and engaging in conversation.
- At home, multiple kids with multiple activities pull you in all kinds of directions.
- More ideas present themselves than you have time to implement, and not all of them will take you down a a consistent or helpful path.
And that leaves a lot of us feeling paralyzed. As a result, a lot of us just get stuck. We try to care for 500 people with the same methods and schedule as when we had 100 people. But we get too busy, and they are increasingly disappointed. We’re working harder than ever before but making less progress. It’s frustrating for everyone.
It also creates a barrier to further progress and development. You’ll never have enough time to perfect or become excellent at anything because you’re trying to do everything. And- ironically- you will disappoint a growing people because you’re trying to please everybody.
What if saying no is the best way to resolve this pattern? As hard as it is for me, I’ve had to learn to cut out so much of what I used to do so I can focus on the few things I need to do and do best. When the staff and elders have discussed the way I best contribute to Connexus, the feedback seems to be that I’m best at communicating, casting vision and leading a team. I’m going to try to spend 80% of my time doing that. Which means I’m cutting out a lot of what I used to do even four years ago.
Moving to a small group structure and to outside counselling referrals allows us to care for over 1000 regular attenders at Connexus and frees people up to be counselled by someone who’s, well, good at it. Releasing our staff to care for their teams means more people get cared for. Me saying no to doing it myself results in a bigger yes for everyone.
This week is the first week in a new experiment for me. I’m spending Mondays and Wednesday working at home – very few interruptions. I’m trying to get ahead on message series, message writing, blogging and spend time preparing for meetings. Two days a week I’ll be in the office, mostly meeting with staff, elders and other leaders. I’m also trying to squeeze a full day off into the mix – which will honestly be new for me. Wish it wasn’t, but it is.
The net result is that I’m saying no more than I ever have before. It means I can’t meet with everyone I’d like to meet with or do everything that comes my way. But, ironically, but saying no to some things will mean I can say a bigger yes to the things I’m best at. It means instead of simply relying on a natural gifting in some areas (communication and vision casting come fairly naturally), I can actually develop those gifts to a greater potential. It means when I’m present with the staff, leaders and elders, I’ll be more focused, more prepared and hopefully have a far more meaningful exchange. It hopefully means we’ll all get better. That’s how no leads to a much greater yes.
There’s no rocket science in this post – I know we all know this. But what amazes me is how hard it is to actually do.
Do you find that? Tell me about your journey? How has saying no helped you say yes? Why do you find it difficult or easy to say no?