The Leader’s Toolkit

Saying No at Work

You know you need to say no to some things. I have an idea about what might be holding you back.

Every day, people want your time, energy, money, expertise… you name it, someone wants it. And as hard as you’ve worked to build your capacity, you know you have a limit. No one has unlimited resources.

Let me ask you this: Why don’t you say no more often?

At work, if a colleague, client, subordinate or the person you report to comes to you for something, what do you do?

Do you take a beat and give yourself a chance to say no? Or do you instantly start to problem-solve?

Lots of high performers blow past their chance to say no in their rush to put out a fire. They’ll say they aren’t in a position to say no, either because of who asked, or the urgency of their work, or because they are the only person who… you fill in the blank that fits for you.

The truth is, you have the right and responsibility to say no to your colleagues, clients, subordinates, and superiors if that’s what needs to happen.

Saying no is how you protect what’s important.

C-Suite readers, this is especially critical for you because your board pays you to protect and grow the company. To do that, you need to:

  • ​protect your personal capacity
  • maintain focus on strategic issues
  • and model effective leadership.

In other words – you need to be especially comfortable saying no to people. What’s more, you can’t jump in to rescue the senior staff who aren’t able to say no. If you do, they train their managers to bail their people out. Everyone is weaker for it.

Listen, there’s no shortage of opportunities for you to say yes to people. Trust me. You’ve got mail. It’s up to you to see the opportunities to say no so that you can protect capacity for the things that matter and deliver real value.

Coming soon: Top 3 Things High Performers Need to Know About Saying No

What do you need to know about saying no to people at work?

I’m working on an article called Top 3 Things High Performers Need to Know About Saying No. And if there’s interest, I might follow it up with: How to Say No the Right Way.

When you think about what really stopped you from saying no to something or someone this week, or what you think would need to change for you to be more comfortable saying no to people, is there a shift that you think I could help you with? Drop me a line if you have an angle you’d like me to address in the article, or if you want to discuss my consulting and coaching services. Either way, I’m curious to hear what you need to know about saying no. Cheers!

Are you subscribed to my monthly newsletter? Subscribers occasionally get exclusive articles, which is what Top 3 Things High Performers Need to Know About Saying No will be. If you haven’t signed up yet, sign up now so you can get this important article.

Habits for High Productivity Days

The first thing you need to know about having a high productivity day tomorrow is that it starts with the last thing you do today.

Habit 1: End your day with a plan for the next day.

One of the biggest pits I see busy managers and leaders fall into is that they work to exhaustion and leave the office without setting a plan for what they need to get done the next day.

Starting the day with a plan for what you have to achieve is key to having a highly productive day. That plan can and should be crafted in advance so you can: Continue reading…

Managing and Keeping Friends

In theory, hiring a friend onto your team should be a great idea. You know them. You already trust them. You have mutual respect. Why wouldn’t it work?

The reality is that transitioning a peer-to-peer friendship to a manager-subordinate relationship rarely goes smoothly. Why? Because people don’t create new contracts upfront.
Continue reading…

Managers: Stop being so busy

Expectations weigh on all of us. But there are expectations, and expectations.

Managers are busy people, but if you’re non-stop busying yourself with meetings, emails and day to day operations you aren’t really doing what you were hired to do.

You weren’t hired to make the inevitable happen. Continue reading…

Managing in a Blender

Just as a complete breakfast sets you up for the day, starting your work day with a complete plan can set you and your team up to accomplish great things. Ideally, most days you start with a plan.

But when demands are at their peak, people often convince themselves to skip the plan and just dive in.

That got me thinking, what if there was a recipe – a fast and easy to remember checklist – of the leadership ingredients you fundamentally need to best serve your team; a Leadership Smoothie if you will.
Continue reading…

Do you need a breakthrough?

Let’s do it.

Take a minute to think about the most important project on your plate. How big does it feel? How much weight does it have? How much time should you devote to it?

Now here’s the big question. What if you only had one hour to do it? That’s it. Just one hour. Gulp.

How would you prepare for the hour?  How would you prioritize it? What would you absolutely have to get done? How would you wrap up it up effectively?

Continue reading…

Counting Strokes

In golf, winners dole out fewer strokes than their competitors. In management, the opposite is true.

A “stroke” is a unit of human contact and recognition: a pat on the back, applause, a congratulatory note, a hug, an award, or praise. Continue reading…

Quick Year End Review

If you are like most people I work with, time is scarce right now.

For those of you looking for a quick exercise to wrap up the year and step into 2011, try this. Continue reading…

It’s time to tell your story

In every human culture, stories are used to pass down knowledge, history and wisdom. They are used to entertain, inspire and motivate. And they are used to connect people through recognizably similar experiences.

So why don’t more leaders share personal stories?

  1. Sharing personal stories will make me vulnerable (like that’s a bad thing).
  2. People only need facts and data to do their jobs, I don’t have time to tell people stories.
  3. People aren’t going be interested in my stories.

If you are holding back from sharing stories for any of those reasons, here’s why you need to get over them. Continue reading…

BCB Communicator: Go Team!

Chris Obst’s article Go Team, published by the BCB Communicator magazine is posted here with the permission of the publisher.

In the article Chris explains how to position and empower teams to deliver their best performance.


Get ready for a whole different kind of tired

You and I are knowledge workers. We use our mental and emotional energy to do the heavy lifting at work.

Leading one-on-one meetings, delivering presentations, analyzing, writing, motivating, coaching – as much as these tasks can feed us, and give us a buzz, they can also drain our mental and emotional energy. Continue reading…

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

The title for this article is also the new tag line for my company. It came out of an “ah ha” moment that a lot of managers have.

In management, you are always moving, stretching, balancing and rebalancing – it is pretty rare that anyone feels totally comfortable because nothing stays still for very long.

3 reasons you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable

  1. Change is constant. And change makes everyone of us more or less uncomfortable.I’m coaching a new VP who confided in me, “This is a really hard job! I feel like I never have things under control.” In her pre-management role, she was able to get things set up and let them operate on cruise control. That just doesn’t happen in management. Continue reading…

How excellent are you?

Leadership excellence is about being able to inspire and grow your highest leverage assets: trust, respect and loyalty.

In good times and bad, everything flows from those three levers.

When you think about great leaders you have known, or admired, my guess is that you would give them all high scores in what I call the 4 C’s. Continue reading…

V is for victory and vulnerability

How does an athlete like Maelle Ricker go from coming in 4rth in Turin in 2006, Ricker to grabbing the gold in women’s snowboard cross in 2010?

She didn’t achieve her ultimate career high by pretending she was perfect.

Any athlete, or leader, who wants to push themselves to the next level has to be willing to be honest about their weaknesses.

3 mind blowing facts about weakness in leaders: Continue reading…

Train to be a gold medal leader

I have to say, ever since the Olympic torch relay ran past my house, I’ve been stoked about the games. (I hope my American and European readers willThe torch indulge me if a little Canadian pride sneaks into this email).

Did you see Alexandre Bilodeau win Canada’s first home-gold in the men’s moguls on Sunday? Can I tell you why I found it so exciting?

As Stephen Brunt wrote in his Globe and Mail article, “That great moment didn’t happen by accident.”

Bilodeau won because he trained hard. He won because he took risks no one else took. He saw opportunities no one else saw. One commentator said, “In his gold medal run, Bilodeau skied hard, fast, and on edge, walking the thin line between greatness and disaster.”

Great leaders also have to ride that edge. We also have to train. We also have to focus. We also have to get comfortable being uncomfortable walking the line between greatness and disaster. Continue reading…

Your Ticket to the Podium

What do you see as the Olympics of your career?

Your ticket to the podium:

  • set a goal: think big, make a plan and stick to a time line.
  • overcome obstacles: things will go sideways, deal with them and don’t let yourself get stuck.
  • pay attention to the details: little things do make a difference (provide regular feedback, don’t let meetings slide, etc.). Continue reading…

Tap into an underexploited energy source: Your emotional energy

We all possess four distinct, yet interconnected sources of energy: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Most of us have a pretty good read on our physical and mental energy levels.

Energy reservesPhysical energy is about what your body can handle: you know your physical energy is low if you fall asleep on a conference call, or if you are dragging your butt to meetings.

Mental energy is about what your brain can handle: you know your mental energy is high if you’re able to analyze a dense report, or if you can make creative connections throughout the day.

Emotional energy is about what you can handle emotionally. It is often indicated by a person’s stress threshold, their breaking/boiling point, their ability to maintain a positive outlook, or their ability to motivate themselves and others. These are all critical factors for high performance at work and at home. Continue reading…

Give your people what they want: one-on-one’s

Give your people what they want.

Following on from my last article about one-on-ones, there is a really easy way for you to give your people what they want this holiday, and throughout the year. Ask them.

Now is a great time to connect with your team and talk to them about their futures and where they see themselves headed.

People want to be empowered to good work, and they want to be seen and respected for who they are and the talents they offer. We aren’t that mysterious. Continue reading…

Brand yourself as a great leader

When I coach, I have a number tools that I use to assess clients. I use different tools for different reasons. But I’m excited about a new Personal Brand Assessment that I’m using to help people:

1) see what impression you leave with people

2) look at what you are doing in your career to consciously cultivate your brand or unconsciously sabotage it Continue reading…

The biggest mistake managers make

The biggest mistake I see managers make is that they repeatedly bail on one-on-ones with direct reports. They set up the meetings, then a big clients comes in from out of town, or someone from head office calls, or the project is behind schedule and… I’ve heard all the excuses. They don’t fly.

It’s a mistake to ditch one-on-ones because:

1. When you bail on one-on-ones you send a message.You inadvertently tell people that they are unimportant, unseen, and unappreciated. 

Don’t think it’s all that bad? Think about how you feel when your boss sets up a meeting with you to talk about your progress and then pushes it because something else came up. That feeling right there is the same feeling that your team members feel every time you bail on them. 

And if you repeat the mistakes of your managers, your employees will repeat them too. Now we are talking about more than one disappointed employee, we are talking about a corporate culture that disrespects employees and stifles potential. It’s serious. Continue reading…