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“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It's very easy to say yes.” — Tony Blair
One of the clearest signs of poor leadership is the inability to focus — it's easy to say yes and it's very hard to say no.
Seymour Schulich elaborates on this in Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons:
This piece of wisdom was instilled in me many years ago by Joe Rotman, an entrepreneur who is the benefactor of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto. Many years ago, prior to the philanthropic work that made him famous, I arranged for a meeting so that I could gather the insight of an astute businessman who'd built a fortune in the resource business, primarily through oil and gas production.
“Every successful businessperson has to learn how to say no,” he told me that day. If you spend your life in business, you will see dozens or perhaps hundreds of potential deals. A small number will be highly attractive; most will be average or below average. The path to superior results is to accept only the best ideas — indeed, no venture capitalist or merchant banker could survive for very long without saying no to 90 per cent (or more) of the pitches he sees.
You can be diplomatic, firm, or a combination of the two, but you must be comfortable with the idea of handing out rejection. Rotman's lesson became rooted deeply in my consciousness and caused me to be much less wimpy about turning down venture capital deals, start-up companies, and charities.
It's not so much what you do but rather what you don't do that matters.
Follow your curiosity to eight ways to say no with grace and style.