The Courage to Stop When Everyone Says ‘Go’

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It could be that your greatest leadership contribution was never noticed; was never recognized, and might not have resulted in any new ground being taken for your cause.

Because your greatest contribution might have been when you said ‘no’. 

This point was drilled home during a recent leadership coaching session with Willow Creek Commmunity Church senior pastor Bill Hybels to a group of 130 international leaders.

“Many organizations have been wrecked by an inability of a leader to say no,” Bill cautioned. “Sometimes a leader can just be too fearful to say ‘no’.”

Hybels went on to give an example of a “no” that had prevented Willow from experiencing tremendous financial hardship.

“We had just completed two large, successful building projects,” Bill explained, “And we were now getting ready to launch a third project. But something within me was telling me we couldn’t handle one more project like this. The timing didn’t seem right. Despite tremendous pressure to move ahead, I had to stand my ground. I said ‘no’ to that third project.”

Within months, the economic collapse of 2008 had hit.

“I shudder to think what would have happened to Willow if we had moved ahead on that third project,” Bill recalled. “I really think that saying ‘no’ prevented us from a serious financial calamity.”

When all of the pressure is mounting to say ‘yes’ to a new idea, how does a leader know when they must instead say a clear and definitive ‘no’?

This is more leadership art than science, but these are some key factors to consider:

The timing might not be right

Sometimes the right idea just comes along at the wrong time.

The kind of needed support might not be right

There may be many people urging you to move forward. But are these the key stakeholders?

The conditions night not be not right.

Is the funding level right? Are the right team members in place?

Just remember that leadership requires courage, and indeed very often that courage is demonstrated in the boldness to move forward.

But sometimes the greatest act of leadership courage is found in standing firm.

And in saying a clear ‘no’.”

the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Willow Creek Association. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave & Willow and John, Fiona & Will. Lifelong learner.

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