Essential Leadership Skills: Say “no” – even to your boss ·
To be a high performer at your work and advance quickly on your career, you have to be able to focus on things that matter. This means that you have to be able to focus on your high priority topics and have to be able to say “no” to the low-priority tasks that do not serve your purpose. This includes saying “no” to your bosses from time to time. As scary as it might seem to tell your boss that you will not take on any more tasks at the moment, it is absolutely necessary thing to do if you want to be a top performer and deliver high-value results consistently. Your manager should know your priorities and your workload, but sometimes this is not the case. Now and then he will come up with additional things that would require you to shift your focus from your top-priority tasks to something else when you are already working at full capacity.
The best way to say “No” to your boss is:
- Keep a clear task list at hand and prioritise your tasks clearly. Your list should be aligned with your team / department goals and should have a clear order, starting from 1 as top priority task. Remember, there can be only one priority 1 topic, and this should be completed before moving up the list and starting the next most important topic.
- Tell your manager what your top-priority task is at the moment and that you would like to focus on it and do it as efficiently and to the best possible quality as possible.
- Explain further that if you have to take on a new task in parallel, it would affect both the schedule and quality of your current work.
- Ask your manager if the new task has a higher priority than your current task or the next tasks on your priority list.
- Ask him to give the new task a clear priority status on your list and agree to start the new task at an appropriate time.
- If the task is urgent but not important, the task will often be given to someone else after this discussion. If you want to have the task for yourself, just tell your manager that it is something that you would like to do. Try to agree on a suitable priority status for the task and find a spot for it on your list.
Message that managers understand
Very few managers are willing to sacrifice the schedule or quality of your high-priority tasks without a very good reason, so you can usually keep working on your high-priority tasks while the new task gets scheduled according to its priority, discarded, or delegated to someone else. This practice also forces your manager to keep up a proper prioritisation system for his tasks and plan how he will distribute them among his team.
This tactic also works with upper management and your colleagues. It requires only that you always keep your priorities clear so you can show them to anyone who asks you to take on additional tasks. You do not only come out of it as a very organised person in you work, but people will also start to value your time. They will learn that whenever they want to throw some additional tasks at you without proper planning, they will also need to negotiate the correct priority status with you.
Having the courage to say “no” to anyone in the company when you have solid reasons will quickly win you respect and a good reputation. Just make sure you don’t overuse this power or misuse it to avoid any unpleasant but important tasks. Instead of being respected, you then risk being seen as a lazy work avoider if your “no” is used too often and with flimsy reasons. Also make sure you do not come out seeming inflexible, and make sure you assess the situation and priorities well before saying no. Your target in many cases is not really to say no but rather to say “later,” and then place the ad hoc task in its proper place on your priority list.
Choose additional tasks responsibilities that support your career plans
Throughout my articles and books, I encourage you to gather more responsibilities to grow your expertise and influence. You should, however, be very conscious while picking additional tasks and responsibilities. You should make sure that you focus on tasks that contribute to your goals and avoid any unessential extras that will just waste your time. Use this tactic to say no in suitable situations to make sure you gather a meaningful list of additional responsibilities and tasks.
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