Past the No

As a leader, if you are willing to stop at the first no, you simply didn’t want it bad enough. Period.

Leadership is about influencing the behavior of others to strive for a clear destination. In most cases, it’s about charting a course toward a big hairy goal that followers otherwise would not achieve. If the intention is to continue on the same well-trod path, you don’t need a leader. In that context, the first “no” is simply an indication that you are bumping up against the system designed to maintain the status quo – which should happen if you are trying to accomplish something new!

Leaders strive for better, or more, or simpler, or faster, or less costly, or to right a wrong . . . a vision that is different from what has previously been experienced or achieved. Because of that, the same thinking that was used in the past won’t get you where you’re going (even if you use a bigger hammer!) The first “no” simply reminds you that the new goal is going to require a different approach. Leaders see past the no.

A phrase I think captures this sentiment (and I have been known to utter from time to time) is . . . “No doesn’t mean No, it means not yet.” The key to effective leadership isn’t about the path, it is about the destination. That means, if the first path is blocked, you look for a second. If the second approach doesn’t work, you consider a third. For Thomas Edison, it meant trying 1,000 different options before arriving at the one that led to the lightbulb.

The place where leaders often stumble is focusing more of our energy on the path than on the destination. Our ego gets tangled up in being convinced that we have identified THE way forward, and if that way doesn’t work then we tell ourselves (and others reinforce for us) that it must not be possible. Confidence might have a louder voice, but commitment and curiosity win the day.

Committed leaders see past the no and wonder, “How else could we approach this?” They ask people with different experiences or perspectives, “What would you do?” They recognize that sometimes people who “know less” about a particular industry/system/problem may actually be able to come up with a solution that people with deep expertise, or past success, might overlook. It is that “what else” curiosity that enables leaders and their teams make the break-through discoveries that are only apparent once you move past the second or third (or thirtieth) no.

Frustrated because it seems like you’ve hit a brick wall? Take a deep breath, and look past the no.

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