I had a great conversation with a friend yesterday that inspired me to share her story and great tips. Barbara (all names have been changed to protect the innocent) is a young professional that would like to get involved in management and be a leader in her company. She’s felt frustrated in the past because while her co-workers genuinely value her “get it done attitude”, teamwork and appreciate that she’ll jump in and help with anything – she doesn’t think they see her as a leader. At first she was upset that no one really took her seriously, but now she has taken her career growth into her own hands. One of the hardest (and maybe not intuitive) things she had to do was to quit saying “yes” all the time.
In my experience most of us are either “yes” or “no” people. By this I mean our first impulse when asked to do something is to either say yes or no. This instant answer (regardless of if you are the yes guy or the no guy) should be tempered. If you generally say “no” (particularly if it “isn’t my job”) to requests, you will rarely have an opportunity to try new things, grow or work with new people. You won’t have the opportunity to discover some of your own hidden talents and passions. And from your peer’s and supervisor’s perspective, at a minimum you’ll get pigeon holed – people won’t even consider you for new assignments. But even worse, they’ll feel you aren’t a team player. You aren’t someone they can depend on.
I think most of us understand the pitfalls in being the “no” guy. And probably if you are a “no” guy, you already recognize it and are working on it. But I bet most of us don’t get and maybe some of you won’t even buy into the fact that being the “yes” guy can have pitfalls as well. Barbara realized that while she was well liked and everyone wanted her on their team, she wasn’t standing out as a leader or a real expert. But instead of blaming others for not giving her opportunities, she took it on herself to develop the skills and experience that is needed to become a leader – and this started with knowing when to say NO.
Barbara knew that she needed to work hard to become a leader – she needed to gain skills but also needed opportunities where her co-workers could see her in a leadership role. But she knows that just adding more hours in her workday wasn’t the answer either. Barbara has already seen the benefits of work-life balance. She needed to find ways to spend more of her time on the tasks that will get her to her goals without adding hours to her day. These are the tips she shared with me:
1) Track and review where you spend your time. If you don’t know what you are spending time on now, you can’t make any modifications.
2) Assess where you are spending your time. Be honest with yourself. Be honest and test that the activity meets one of these criteria:
- it’s squarely in your job duties for your current positions or
- it’s getting you experience or exposure that are necessary to achieve your goals.
3) Shed activities that don’t meet these criteria. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, you’ll need to make a conscious decision to move away from those activities. While you may be very popular, your peers probably don’t see you as leadership or expert material. As a side note – in all of my experience rarely does brown-nosing get you anywhere. So if you are spending time kissing up to someone and you think it meets the second bullet, I would encourage you to give up that activity and focus on developing yourself. Leaders want folks that can get the job done, not those that butter them up.
4) For new tasks, be discerning about what you say “yes” to. This is the hard part. Before saying you’ll take on a new project or task (even if it’s your boss asking), take a moment and run it through the filter above. If you really don’t feel like its part of your job or going to give you skills/experience to meet your long term goals, figure out how to say no.
How to say “no” without turning into the “no” guy:
Ok, this part requires a bit of tact and Barbara had some great tips on that as well. Instead of just being outright blunt – “nope, I’m too important to work on that” or “it’s not my job”, try these tips.
- Tell the person requesting that you really don’t have time but brainstorm with them on who would be a good resource for them. Make introductions (this is where it helps to know your peers, there might be someone that this task is right in their wheelhouse and they would love to do it to develop themselves – or frankly that it is their job).
- If it is something that you’ve done in the past, offer to train someone else or show the person how to do it themselves.
Be more selective with what you take on and you’ll be able to do your real job better (first priority) and you’ll have room to jump into an opportunity that will further your goals.
In any area of your life, reaching for your dreams take hard work and focus. But it doesn’t have to take burning the midnight oil. It takes being very selective about what you spend your time on and then doing that well.