The Power of "No"

The excerpts below are from a great article from Psychology Today, titled The Power of No.  I highly commend this article, found on the Psychology Today site:

Here are a few carefully chosen excerpts:

“As a general guideline, five situations benefit from increasing strength to say No.

When it keeps you true to your principles and values. It's a beautiful thing - emotionally, spiritually, and even professionally - to be generous, to be supportive. But, as sociologists Roger Mayer, James Davis, and F. David Schoorman point out in their classic studies of organizations; integrity is as essential as benevolence in establishing interpersonal trust. It is a requirement for effectiveness...

When it protects you from cheerful exploitation by others.  It's remarkable how much some people will ask of you, even demand from you, things for which you yourself wouldn't dream of asking. Protect yourself best from the many who feel entitled to ask by being strong enough to say a firm, clear, calm No....

When it keeps you focused on your own goals.  When her boss criticized her for the second time as a "Chatty Cathy" whose work was late because she wasted too much time talking, Amy felt hurt and unfairly evaluated. Was it her fault that people loved to stop by her cubicle? How was she supposed to turn away Marsha, whose aging mother presented so many problems, or Jim, who wanted her thoughts on the best way to proceed with their clients? Her colleagues needed her support; cutting them short would hurt their feelings and her relationships...

When it protects you from abuse by others.  Sadly, our most important relationships often invite our ugliest communications. In part that's because the people closest to us arouse our strongest emotions, and in part it's because they are the people we fear losing the most. Fear can sap the strength we need to say No, just when we need that power most...

When you need the strength to change course.  The invitations are in the mail, but the impending marriage is a mistake. The job looks good to the rest of the world, but it's making you sick in the morning. Your family has sacrificed to pay the tuition, but law school feels like a poor fit. When you find yourself going down the wrong road, No is the power necessary to turn yourself around....

The problem is getting ourselves to do it. Accessing your own power requires overcoming one huge obstacle: the cost of dishing out No.

Dishing It Out

Simply, No is not a warm send. It's tough to deliver, largely because we have a gut sense of how it will be received - not well...”

What follows in the article is sage advise about how to say no – and the cost of doing read the complete article go to the link above.


The Fruit of Your Labors Will Follow You - Part Two

At a very young age, seeking to recruit a friend to join him in China, Robert Morrison wrote these words, “I wish I could persuade you to accompany me. Take into account the 350 million souls in China who have not the means of knowing Jesus Christ as Savior…”

The year was 1806. At this time, except for the purpose of trade, foreigners were forbidden entrance into China. Every foreigner, on landing, was strictly interrogated as to what his business might be. If he did not have a reasonable answer to give, he was sent back on the next sailing vessel. Morrison was aware of the dangers but was still willing to go in faith, believing Jesus would open a door for him to stay in China.

Reading about the life of Robert Morrison, I am reminded of the fierce focus of Paul the apostle:

“I consider my life worth nothing to me...if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me” (Acts 20:24)

At about the same time these words were spoken to the Ephesian elders, Paul also wrote to his young disciple Timothy and said,

“...the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (II Timothy 4:6-8).

Paul lived with the expectation that there was a reward awaiting him. He pictured Jesus awarding him on “that day.” It was the vision of Jesus in the future that kept him going in the present. It was the pure picture of pleasing Jesus that ensured the fruit of his labors would follow him.

I too, look forward to that day, don’t you? Can you picture it in your minds eye?

Take a moment and imagine it... you are kneeling before Jesus. As you are bowed in worship, He gently reaches out to you, puts His hand under your chin and lifts your gaze to look into His eyes, He astonishes you by placing a crown on your head. It is the reward given to the faithful who have stayed focused on Jesus.

In response, you take off the crown Jesus gave you and cast it at His feet, acknowledging that your greatest reward is the reward He receives from those who are gathered to worship Him. It is the fruit of your labors on earth that will follow you into heaven.

It is this vision of the future that sustains us in the present.

The Fruit of Your Labors Will Follow You - Part One

RobertMorrison My wife, Sally, and I visited the cemetery in Macau, China, where Robert Morrison and his first wife, Mary, are buried. Robert Morrison was the first Protestant missionary to China. He lived 52 short years and died in Canton in 1834.

During his twenty-five years of work as a missionary he translated the whole Bible into the Chinese language and baptized ten Chinese believers. Today there are an estimated 180 million Chinese followers of Jesus Christ – amazing fruit for a man who only baptized 10 converts in his lifetime.

Robert Morrison focused on Jesus his whole life. Just Jesus. During the 27 years he served in China he kept his focus on Jesus. He went home on furlough only once in all those years.

When Robert Morrison was asked, shortly after his arrival in China, if he expected to have any spiritual impact on the Chinese... his answer was:  “No sir, but I expect God will!”

He did what he did for Jesus. He knew there was no other cause worthy of the sacrifices he was to make – and he made some big ones.

Part of the inscription on his tombstone reads,  “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord...that they may rest from their labors and their works shall follow them.”

Robert Morrison’s works followed him – 180 million people in China are following him to heaven. It all began with him going to China as an act of devotion to Jesus.

Suppose it was your tombstone in that cemetery in Macau. How would you want it to be inscribed?

I have often pictured myself watching my own funeral service, wondering what I would like people to say about me after I am gone. Sometimes I even write my own epitaph. This is not morbid preoccupation with myself, as strange as it sounds, but rather a way to stay focused on what is most important to live for while I’m still here. It is my way of finding focus in the midst of many competing passions.

We were created to live for something greater than ourselves, and only in Jesus will we find that “something.”  Only by focusing on Jesus will our works follow us to heaven.

Take time now... choose a few phrases you want spoken about you when your family and friends gather to celebrate your life.  Write them down. Reflect on them. Now, with this fresh focus, go back into the race of life and give your heart to that which you want to follow you when you die.

Why Some Leaders Fail to Get Things Done

When leaders fail to get the ‘main thing’ done it is because of one simple, fatal shortcoming: failure to perform. It is not a lack of vision, or shortage of brainpower. It is the inability to act decisively when decisive action is called for. When asked why Microsoft rose to the top amongst so many competing computer companies, some of which had better products, Bill Gates said: “Immediate and massive action.”

It’s as simple as that: not getting things done, being indecisive… not delivering on the goods. Failure as a leader is never final, and sometimes it can be influenced by flawed strategy, refusal to confront reality in their area of responsibility, etc. etc. but the greatest cause of leadership failure is failure to execute the ‘main thing’. Good leaders learn to focus on one thing… the main thing.

In a local church or missional community the same principle applies. Churches that stagnate do so because of a lack of passionate, focused vision from their senior leader. This ‘vision void’… not focusing on the main thing, results in a lack of motivation in people to ‘make it happen’.

Why do Leaders Fail to Get Things Done?

Why do leaders fail to execute? There are many obvious reasons, including personality, gift-mix and experience. But there seems to be a pattern in recent firings in the business community that shed light on why leaders fail to perform. Church leaders would do well to learn from their secular counterparts.

Failure to put the right people in the right jobs. Leaders who don’t deal with people-problems quickly allow those few subordinates with sustained poor performance to deeply harm their endeavor. Most leaders usually know when there is a problem; their inner voice tells them to act, but they suppress it.

This tendency in some leaders to suppress their inner voice can be due to a lack of emotional strength. Emotional strength to seek information and input from multiple sources, to deal with conflict, to resist denial and take the necessary steps to deal with the problem in time.

Leaders lacking in emotional strength often justify their failure to deal with problem people by making excuses…

“He has to succeed.” Such a leader may be the victim of mental or emotional seduction. Convinced that his ‘hand picked’ subordinate will succeed regardless. If the protégé fails, and this leader cannot bring himself to face the failure, he is in big trouble.

“He’s my guy!” This is a problem of blind loyalty. Maybe they have worked together for a long time or there is a deep bond of relationship. In this case, a subordinate who is failing to grow, or lacking the skills necessary to get the job done, will continue on without consequence as his leader, ‘blinded’ by loyalty, fails to act.

“I can coach him.” If the subordinate is not a quick learner, then the organization or ministry will downgrade to the skill and management level of the person in charge.

“The people like him – he must be okay.” Some subordinates forge links with others so as to build a power base for their continued service. Others build connections with the board, or donors. However, poor performance is poor performance, and no matter how nice or well liked, if this person is not removed, they will hinder the organizations ability to fulfill its mission.

“There is a lot of transition going on, and many people have left already, people won’t like it if he leaves.” If the subordinate is failing, delaying taking action just makes the problem worse. Transition is probably the best time to make changes. Rather get it done while things are up in the air, instead of waiting for things to settle only to disrupt them again.

“He’s in the job, and I will take the devil I know over the devil I don’t know.” Such a leader may be insecure over his ability to hire the right person, especially if it is someone from outside the organization. There may be a fear that the new person will not fit into the culture and values of the group.

A leader does not need to be ruthless to get things done. Successful leaders have an inner value that drives them: ‘people first…strategy second’. This points to the need for a leader to make sure they have top caliber, committed, hard working people on their team, who will follow their example to focus on the ‘main thing’

The excuses of those leaders who fail to execute are often unconscious but in actuality they are mechanisms for conflict avoidance, and they prolong the inevitable.

Below are some significant hindrances to getting things done:

  1. Commitment to a favorite organizational model.
  2. Consensus decision-making.
  3. Losing sight of the main thing and making the process the end goal.
  4. Cliques.
  5. Changing vision often, the “flavor of the month” version of leadership.
  6. Failure to do whatever has to be done to achieve results. Failed leaders ask, “Why can’t people do it themselves?” or “Why can’t people solve problems without my help?”
  7. Denial. Leaders who fail to execute avoid facing the realities of their situation. They quickly end up becoming prisoners of one or two friends, listening to the ‘Pollyanna’ reports they love to hear. Some just can’t take responsibility for failure, so they blame others or circumstances for lack of results. They may have gotten used to winning for so long, all the way back to high school sports or college politics, that they can’t face the reality that they have to change things immediately if they are to be successful. Typically, they can’t believe that when something is going wrong, it is their fault.

The best thing that could happen to some of these leaders is a good, straight talk. But who is going to do them such a favor? Subordinates tend to keep their senior leader happy by feeding their ego. These leaders need to be taken to the woodshed. Deep down, they may even want it, but they are afraid to reveal their deep insecurities. Some of these poor leaders sit in a cocoon of isolation at the pinnacle of their career. They can’t see the seeds of destruction slowly growing under the surface.

Danger: there is a fine line between denial and optimism. A senior leader has the twin responsibility of being a cheerleader and the one to call the hard shots. A great leader acknowledges the negatives while providing hope and confidence. Warren Buffet warns, “The senior leader who misleads others in public eventually misleads himself in private.” It is called deception. Leaders who can’t face reality, don’t want to.

Deniers tend to be inveterate optimists, seduced by past glory and living in the hope of future success.

Leaders who fail to perform are typically the kind of people who serve on too many boards, attend too many meetings, travel too much, and have too many irons in the fire. They see themselves as ambassadors for their movement. They are dabblers, unfocused. Whatever the cause, indecisiveness takes over, and they fail to lead effectively.

Effective leaders use decision-making processes to drive results, not delay them. They start by focusing on initiatives that are clear, specific and few, and they don’t launch a new one until those in process are embedded in the DNA.

Effective Leaders are implementers through a process that seems simple, even obvious, but has profound effects. They note at the end of meetings who is to do what, by when. This type of leader goes over action steps with everyone before the meeting closes, and they probably send each one a reminder afterward.

It is fascinating to watch what happens when a leader who executes well brings these habits into a company where they didn’t exist before. The whole tone changes. People prepare for meetings differently. They interact differently. They stay focused. Commitments are highly valued. Great leaders hold people accountable, always.

Keeping track of critical assignments, following up, evaluating performance – isn’t that kind of, well, boring? It may well be. It’s a grind. At least, plenty of intelligent, never-the-less failed, leaders say so. And in a way you can’t blame them. It is hard work to lead well. It takes discipline, faithfulness, and follow through.

The problem with leaders who fail to execute is not a lack of brains or ability nor a lack of clear goals or strategy. It is the failure to make things happen. The problem with these leaders is drive. They find no reward in getting the job done, or finishing well. They find no incentive in continually improving how things are done. Failed Leaders ask, “Why don’t people follow through on things I ask them?” They’re afraid of appearing too controlling, of “micro-managing.”

Great leaders succeed because they have a desire to compete - all the time. They have a willingness to confront. They get a charge out of pushing a thing to completion, of improving and then improving some more. They love to set up systems and get the right people to run them. That is why they are so hungry for information, for reports from the battlefield. Effective leaders have a strong external focus and get stimulated by details of what’s happening in their area of responsibility. The details others find boring. They are haunted by the very real possibility that the boss is the last to know. To prevent this from happening, they ask hard questions. They pull in loads of data.

Great leaders know that having the right strategy is important, but it is only half the battle. Someone has to make it happen, and stick with it to improve it and make it work, day-in and day-out. That responsibility cannot be delegated to a second in command or an executive pastor or CEO.

Profile of a Leader Who Gets Things Done

  • Decisiveness: the senior leader faces conflict, pressure, internal dissent and fear of rejection with equanimity. They do what has to be done to get the job done and get it done right. They know the main thing and will not be deterred from seeing it accomplished.
  • Character: integrity, maturity, and spiritual energy. Self-confidence is essential.
  • People skills: judging, building teams, growing and coaching people, firing where necessary.
  • Business acumen: instinctive feel for how a company makes money, and a corresponding understanding of how to make that happen.
  • Organizational ability: engender trust, share information, listen expertly, diagnose problems and know how to bring about full potential; they deliver on commitments, are decisive, attract good staff and set up effective systems.
  • Insatiable curiosity: intellectual capacity, global mindset, externally oriented, adept at connecting developments and spotting patterns. They read and ask questions, lots of them.
  • Superior judgment: good observation skills, discerning, listening, good counselors, they have a foundation of moral principles and convictions to build on.
  • Hungry for growth and accomplishment: result oriented, focused, faithful, follow through, willing to say no. They are ambitious in the best meaning of the word.
  • Learners: motivated to improve, to learn from mistakes, gatherers of information, inspired to know and convert what they learn into practice.
  • Vision: they see the outcome and work toward it with tremendous focus and energy. Outcome oriented.
  • Knowing the main thing. Leaders have one primary responsibility, and that is to see to it that the main thing is always the main thing. They know that in the end, winning popularity contests won’t produce results. So they get the job done.

In the Christian arena, these leaders usually don’t have a great number of 'hang-out' friends, but they respect people and treat them well. They are focused, they live with a driving ambition to fulfill their calling. They want to finish the race and win the prize.











Attention Distraction Disorder

There are many tasks a leader must do, but one stands out above the others. Leaders must focus the attention of their followers. To do that, he or she must focus their own attention. There is a constant battle for the energy and attention of leaders. If a leader does not master the challenge of “attention distraction disorder” they will not lead well. The problem is one of concentration. Christian leaders must be able to maintain focus on three things simultaneously: focusing on yourself and your relationship with God, focusing on the wider world – specifically that part of the world you are called to reach, and lastly, focusing on the “immediate” others in your life –those you serve with.

Focusing upward – maintains your emotional and spiritual well being

Focusing inward – maintains your connection relationally to your natural and spiritual family

Focusing outward – maintains your passion for those you are called to reach

Every leader needs to cultivate this “triad of awareness.” Failure to focus upward leaves you rudderless, failure to focus outward renders you lost in a haze of busyness, and failure to focus on others around you leaves you clueless relationally.

An unfocused leader will be blindsided. An unfocused leader who does not cultivate abundance and balance in the “focus triad” will run in circles, impressed with their own busyness and unaware that others are not truly following them. Or sadly, if their followers are following, they are being misled.

Seven skills and character qualities to overcome “attention distraction disorder”:

1. Determine three to five priorities in your life in order of ranking, and proportion your time for each one accordingly.

2. Set aside time each day for personal reflection and renewal. Cleanse yourself through prayer and confession of negative emotions and reactions to others.

3. Learn to say no. The more responsibility you have the more often you have to say no – so you can say yes to the main things. Do a time map for your week to evaluate how you use your time.

4. Cultivate people around you who are able to say no to you. Find ways to hear the voices of people who are not afraid to express disagreement or differing points of view. As leaders grow in position and power their ability to maintain diverse personal connections suffer – unless they have gathered people around them who will be honest with them.  A wise leader will recognize valuable counsel from people of every social rank within their community or organization. Without such deliberate shift of attention, the natural inclination of senior leaders is to listen only to other senior leaders in their inner circle.

5. Learn self-restraint. When confronted by problems, effective leaders are those who have cultivated inner “traffic lights.” They recognize red light, yellow light and green light signals. They calm themselves under pressure, take time to think about how to respond, and then do so with a clear plan. Leaders who learn the quality of self-restraint shift away from impulse driven behavior to deliberate purpose-driven behavior.

6. Practice creativity and innovation. Do some things differently. Think out of the box. If you want new results you will have to break away from old practices.

7. Turn off notifications on your devices. Put your phone on airplane mode during your personal reflection time. A wealth of information can create a poverty of attention.

Focused attention is the basis of the most essential of leadership skills – emotional, organizational and strategic intelligence. The constant barrage of information and the speed of decision making in today’s world makes it crucial for leaders to maintain attention and to direct the attention of those they lead.

* I am grateful for the the inspiration and many of the insights for this article to Daniel Goleman in an article he authored titled, The Focused Leader, from the Harvard Business Review, page 50, December, 2013