Effective Leadership Means Learning to Say No

By MELISSA RZEPPA, Class 23
Partner & PR Director – Serendipit Consulting

I recently received an e-mail from a friend who works for a non-profit. The subject line of her read “Potential Committee Member.” I immediately started hyperventilating. I opened the e-mail and the first line said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask YOU to be on the committee, I was hoping one of your employees could?”

Yikes. My friends could see that I was over-committed before I even recognized it!

I may be a people-pleaser, but I really want to be an effective leader. The problem is that you can’t possibly give 100% to 500 different things, or even 25 different things for that matter. You can probably slide by and give a little here and there for those 25 different things, but are you really doing that organization or that commitment justice?

As a leader, when you say “YES” to something, whether it’s to serve on a board, organize an event, write an article, volunteer to walk dogs or solicit donations, you are expected to be as much of a leader for that new commitment as the last one. When your knack for organizing, motivating and delivering results becomes exposed and you are pegged as someone with leadership abilities, your world opens up to many new possibilities and opportunities to use those skills. The challenge is in learning to understand your boundaries so that you don’t get burnt out and, more importantly, so that you can honor the commitments you’ve already made to serve as a leader.

It’s certainly not easy to be a leader, that’s probably why you always see the same people taking on the majority of the work within the organizations that you’re involved. But, if you always say yes, especially when you already have plenty of commitments, you’re taking away someone else’s opportunity to lead – someone who may have the time and energy to give 100% instead of 5%.

So I’ve recently had to ask myself: would I rather give 100% to five different things, or do all 25 and be known as unreliable? For me, I’m finally realizing that choosing five is the better option.

One article I found from a leadership development company suggested that you ask yourself a few questions before saying yes to a new commitment:

1. Am I really the best person for this?
2. What can I realistically delegate if I take this on?
3. Do I have current commitments that are ending soon?
4. Can I really commit to this?

How have you learned to best manage your commitments as a leader?

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