Leadership Means Saying NoThe Time magazine article, “A Successful Leader Has to Learn to Say No,” begins with a quote from former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It’s very easy to say yes."

Why is Saying No an Art of leadership?

I have an idea. And this idea holds true whether a company is doing well or poorly.

Ideas are shared with leaders constantly. Leaders must determine which ideas to proceed with, and which ideas need to be discounted.

A leader must understand that saying no is a way to maintain laser focus on the vision and objectives at hand.

When a company is performing poorly, ideas are presented to set the ship straight again. How many of these ideas are wild chases? How many are just rearranging deck chairs? Leaders must cut through the chaff to determine what ideas are going to provide real solutions.

When a company is performing strongly, ideas of a different sort are presented to leaders. Perhaps they come as forms of company expansion or additional revenue streams. But which of these ideas enhance and fulfill the mission and the corporate objectives at hand?

Of course, it would be easier to say yes. Leaders do not want to be party to obstruction. But excellent leaders always have their eye on the prize. The greater the focus, oftentimes the more numerous others are told “no.” And the greater the communicator a leader is, the easier the “no” is accepted.

The Five Times Saying No is an Act of Leadership

Entrepreneur magazine published an interesting article about times when a leader must say no.

Sounds sensible, right? Too often the bad idea is mixed in with an attempt to honor ideas and those who put them forth. Treat the idea on its merits alone and move on.

See my explanation of when a company is performing well.

You are paid to provide guidance. Not all client ideas are the best course of action for their company. Even if they are paying you.

Some of the best ideas come from those who are closest to the client. But is an expanded offering a good idea? Does it fit with furthering quarterly, yearly objectives?

As a leader, you may be the last to interview a candidate who has received thumbs up from everyone who has already interviewed them. You may have a completely different take on a candidate when it comes to what you are looking for. It may be hard to say no, but it may be correct.

What do you think? Can you add an example of when it is time to say “no”?

Rules To Shape Your StrategyAs business leaders we’re constantly shaping and re-shaping our strategies. We have to pay attention to the developments around the world in order for our companies to succeed because our strategies are intertwined with market forces that affect consumers and demand.

Mark Pollard wrote a theoretical blog post on how to shape strategies. He says, “The great thing about strategy-in-shapes is it makes your thinking look very deliberate, impossibly official, and crazy to mess with.”

The concepts he plays with the most are:

Strategy Rule No.1: Gather Information

First, bring together useful information about your brand, business objectives, products, competition, culture, and human behavior. Take a look at analytics, do keyword research and look for patterns, look at consumer reviews, and use qualitative research if available to you.

Strategy Rule No.2: Shape-Sprint

Pollard comes up with a few strategies based on the information he’s gathered. He says, “I tend to dig then sprint and let it all percolate…then repeat.” When putting strategies together he finds it useful to close the door and think, open it to share and debate, then close it to hone in.

Strategy Rule No.3: Rewrite Your Shapes and Collaborate

To shape a strong strategy, embrace strong, visual language. Pollard suggests taking your three favorite strategies and rewriting them 10 times each. Keep making them shorter and stronger, easy to understand. Bring your ideas to your team and collaborate with them. They may be able to offer you even better ideas to help execute your strategy.

Strategy Rule No.4: Get it Straight before Presenting

Pollard suggests taking the one or two strategies your team favors and writing stories around them. He says in the story, take someone on the journey you’ve just been on from the problem, to the twist, to the ‘what if we…?’, to the answer. This can help you put your thoughts together in a more direct way.

Determine the Shape of your Strategy

Set a clear direction for your company whether it’s cutting costs, expanding services, or improving infrastructure. If you have broad priorities, make clear guidelines your employees understand and can act upon.

According to this article on the HBR Blog Network by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt, successful companies shape their high-level strategies by relying on simple rules of thumb.

In shaping strategies, Sull and Eisenhardt offer four simple rules to follow:

  1. Align activities with corporate objectives
  2. Adapt to local circumstances
  3. Foster coordination
  4. Make better decisions

Sull poses three questions to break down complex strategies into actionable steps:

  1. What are the key drivers of value creation?
  2. What are the three to five critical challenges if we overcome would ensure economic value?
  3. What are the must-win battles?

Sull says to translate corporate objectives into a few straightforward guidelines that help employees make on-the-spot decisions and adapt to constantly shifting environments, while keeping the big picture in mind. He also says, “For a strategy to influence action it must be remembered. To be remembered it must be understood. To be understood it must be simple.”

What techniques do you use to shape your strategy?

Overcome Fear: How Scared Leaders Still LeadWe all have different thresholds of fear in the business world. For some it could be something as simple as asking others for help. For others it could be launching a new product, starting a new business, or finding the right candidate for an open position.

Whatever the situation, as business leaders we still need to lead our team even when we’re scared. We talked a few months ago about reframing fear to overcome it. However, fear can be paralyzing.

Kevin Eikenberry wrote an interesting blog post providing tips to take to lead when you are scared. He says, as leaders it’s alright to be scared, but we can’t remain scared. We still need to lead no matter what the situation is. We can’t stop and do nothing, we need to take action and keep business running as usual.

Overcome Fear: How Scared Leaders Still Lead

The View is Scary

As a leader you are the one out front looking at the future for not only yourself, but your team and company. It’s important to know sometimes the view will cause fear.

Acknowledge Emotions

Acknowledge the emotions of your team and of yourself. Be open and honest with them about your feelings and recognize they may have negative feelings too.

Plan and Take Action

Regroup and decide on the next step. Focus on what to do and stop making excuses. Also, don’t forget to bring your team with you. Eikenberry says to provide support and encouragement, and remember there is safety in numbers.

Get Feedback and Keep Moving Forward

Momentum and action help alleviate stress and fear. Eikenberry says momentum and action is usually the path to success and progress.

Just because you are a leader doesn’t mean you never get scared. As business leaders, it’s in our nature to overcome most fears, however sometimes we find ourselves in uncharted waters. Try these tips to get through it and continue to lead your team to success.

What other advice would you add?

Four Tips from CEOs to Master Time ManagementWe've all felt like we could use another hour or two in the work day. According to an eVoice survey of small business owners, time is viewed as the most valuable asset, considered more important than tangible resources such as computers or cell phones.

As a business leader it’s interesting to see what other CEOs do to manage their time.

The Wall Street Journal has been doing a video series called Lessons in Leadership to gain insights, management tips, and more from CEOs at large companies.

Four Tips from CEOs to Master Time Management

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, says people often get caught up in the day-to-day flow. Weiner adds, “If challenges keep coming up there is a natural tendency to solve one problem after another.”

To manage his time, he carves out time to think, as opposed to reacting constantly. During his thinking time, he thinks strategically, proactively, and long-term. He tries to strike a balance between what is urgent versus what is important.

Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, creates spreadsheets to budget time for the year. He allocates time for meetings, travel, and innovation. He even schedules his free time and his vacations. He says he wants to make sure he feels comfortable he has enough free time.

Kevin Roberts, former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, says his secret to work-life harmony is to never back down or compromise. He also says not to do the stuff you don’t like, preferring instead to delegate.

Kenneth Chenault, CEO of AmEx, says he allots time for developing talent, managing business priorities, and meeting customers. He says business leaders need to spend a good amount of their time with customers because it keeps you externally focused. He sets a framework of how to manage his business, short-term, moderate-term and long-term issues.

You also need to set the pace of your organization and team; set the framework as Chenault would say.

Jay Steinfeld, founder and owner of Blinds.com, says as a business owner, you are called to be your organization’s timekeeper, to look at the bigger picture, and to set the pace for your team.

He wrote an article for Inc., offering a few tips on how to tell when you should speed things up or slow them down.

When to take it Slow:

  1. Strategic planning
  2. With criticism
  3. Making judgments before having all of the information
  4. Moving something to the top of your list
  5. When hiring
  6. With training

When to Speed it up:

  1. Dismissing non-performers and detractors
  2. Cutting projects when they’re not on the roadmap
  3. Offering specific feedback
  4. Correcting your course
  5. Admitting your own mistakes
  6. Promoting from within
  7. Trying and taking risks

As a business owner, you may be interrupted frequently and pulled in multiple directions. You can’t eliminate them, but you can decide on how much time you will spend on them. Everyone will find their own timing, but if you feel pressed for time, these tips might help you to stay on track.

What tips would you add? Do you use any tools to manage your time?

image credit: RLHyde 

Four Ways to Keep Employees on Track During the Holiday SeasonHolidays are a time of distraction for employees. They are often overloaded as they try to combine personal goals such as shopping, traveling, and family gatherings with work goals such as finishing all projects before the holiday break.

Amy Levin-Epstein of CBS News spoke with Allan Steinmetz, CEO and founder of Inward Strategic Consulting about how to keep your staff engaged and focused through the end of the year.

Offer a Flexible Schedule

Sometimes a little free time during a busy season is more valued than cash so during this time of year consider flexible scheduling. It allows employees to do their personal and work tasks with more ease, Levin-Epstein says.

Steinmetz suggests leaders offer once a week half-days for gift shopping, if you feel generous.

Plan Office Holiday Cheer

Organize a pot luck meal, Secret Santa events, or simple coffee and cake. It’s good for morale to acknowledge the season. To build your team together and build engagement through the New Year, bring them together.

Give Back                       

Steinmetz suggests leaders organize a team outing to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or shelter. Fit activities into your corporate schedule such as a can or toy drive. They can have a similar effect, and it doesn’t take away from the work day but it brings your team together.

And one more we’d like to add:

Avoid Launching New Projects

Most employees give all they have to finish what is on their plate by the time the end of the year rolls around. If you add new projects to their full plates, it can send people over the edge. Hold off on any new projects until after the first of the year, that way your employees return from their break refreshed and ready to go.

Business needs don’t stop just because it’s the holidays. As a leader it is difficult to balance the needs of the company and your employees. However, you need to make sure productivity flows throughout the year. Employ some or all of these methods to help maintain your employee productivity level during the holiday season.

Image credit: Artondra Hall 

Become a Better Leader By MentoringMentoring is an essential skill every leader should strive to achieve. In addition to managing and motivating people, it's also important you help others learn, grow, and become more effective in their jobs.

Doing this through a formal mentoring relationship is ideal.

You can't just walk up to someone and say "Let me mentor you." So how and where do you begin?

Personal connections and referrals may be a good place to start. Tell your colleagues and your friends you're interested in becoming a mentor.

More formal ways to connect with potential mentees can be done through partnership organizations, professional networks, or community organizations.

Many studies have shown individuals have a stronger chance of being successful if they have good mentors. And, contrary to popular belief, the new business generation WANTS guidance. Harvard Business Review featured an article “Mentoring Millenials” stressing this point.

How to Become a Better Leader By Mentoring

While not every leader may want to be a mentor, there are key qualities to consider for those who are interested in becoming one:

Authentic – You are real and practice what you preach. A good mentor will not only tell their mentee the best approach, but uses (or has used) the approach themselves. The purpose of working with a mentor is to learn from their experiences, which often includes mistakes as well as successes.

Available - The amount of time required for mentoring depends on the individuals involved, but regardless, it does require regular conversations and meetings. This is something that needs to be discussed at the beginning with your mentee, but most mentor relationships can only work if both parties are committed to the frequency of contact.

Learner – Any good mentor should know they don't know everything there is to know in any given field today, but they continue to learn and share what they are discovering. If you are someone who loves learning and teaching, then mentorship may be just the thing for you.

In addition to these qualities, I've come up with a few questions to ask yourself before you decide to be a mentor.

We all have had people in our careers who have helped us grow, or maybe we wish that we had someone like that. Why not be that person for someone?

What to Include in Your Year-End Business ChecklistBefore you ring in the New Year, now is the time to get your office in order and get your business in line to reach your goals.

“As leaders, we often move from one year to the next with little or no time spent reviewing the year just past from a purely leadership perspective,” says Inc. contributor, Les McKeown.

Year-End Checklist for Business Leaders

To help counter that, he offers a year end checklist for business leaders.

Understand and Manage the Narrative

McKeown says there are four narratives every business ends the year with:

  1. We blew it.
  2. We nailed it.
  3. Our customer service team let us down.
  4. The first three quarters sucked, but the fourth wasn't too bad.

As a leader, you need to know what narrative your team has taken and manage it. It isn't about manipulating what people think. Great leaders help them understand the importance of it.

Tie Up Loose Ends

The end of the year is the perfect time to tie up any loose ends. December is a busy month, so be sure to set aside time to address your obligations.

Reassess Activities

McKeown suggests leaders ask for nominations of less-than-useful activities from your team and get rid of those that yield no ongoing benefit. Look at outdated practices, policies that no longer work, routines that get in the way, or meetings that don’t have a purpose.


Take some time to think about anything you've lost as a team. It could be a sense of fun, energy, enthusiasm, or maybe you’re short on perspective. Whatever it is, find ways to replenish it because you don’t want to start a new year with something missing. “When you've identified which is missing or has run down to dangerously low levels, think through how to restock in the next 30 days,” says McKeown. It could be anything from a holiday retreat to a conference to rest.

Don’t Forget About Yourself

Take a look at how you have changed as a leader throughout the year. McKeown suggests leaders create two columns: A column of your defining characteristics at the start of the year and a column of your defining characteristics at the end of the year. Identify which characteristics helped your team and which caused trouble.

“When you've decided, ask your team members if they agree—you may be surprised by how differently they view which characteristics are your strong points and which are weaknesses,” McKeown says.

The end of the year is a time to step back from day-to-day operations and make time to cross a few items off your to-do list before the New Year starts. Great leaders know how to make sure their employees are happy and ready to move forward.

What is on your year-end checklist?

Time Management When You’re OverwhelmedLeaders have many responsibilities that keep their schedules packed, and oftentimes overflowing. As business leaders tackle multiple roles from managing a team of employees, to looking for new marketing opportunities, and securing new business, effective time management becomes harder and harder to achieve.

We can begin to feel overwhelmed. Time is a precious commodity, and effective leaders put their time management skills into play to ensure they maximize their time and accomplish their goals.


Time Management Tips When You'Re Overwhelmed

Jen Groover, contributor to Entrepreneur, offered simple time management tips when you’re overwhelmed.

You aren’t taught time management skills in school, but time is a valuable asset. In today’s workplace, you can differentiate yourself by your ability to manage your time. If you feel overwhelmed, try these tips to stay on track and get your work done.

How do you manage your time to be more efficient and achieve your goals?

Culture vs. StrategyQuick. Without thinking - what is more important to your organization; strategy or culture? Does one trump the other?

In Forbes Magazine, Mike Myatt continues the interesting debate about strategy vs. culture. I've been watching for quite some time as experts argue both sides of the case.

What happens if you put culture ahead of strategy? Or vice versa? I’ve been thinking about that.

Culture is the personality of your brand – it’s how your employees behave, the language they speak; it defines the environment in which they operate. Culture drives human behavior and in this day and age where we are being asked to humanize our organizations daily, thanks mostly to the onset of social media, culture is critical.

Shawn Parr is one of the proponents of culture over strategy Fast Company, Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch. He argues culture is important for

Having a great culture is of utmost value to a brand, you’ll get no argument from me. It defines your brand and your human interaction. When your employees enjoy working for you, it shows and people want to do business with people they enjoy working with.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Company A can send out witty emails and clever messages such as this one: When a server outage caused downtime for one online merchant, they sent an email out to their database apologizing for the inconvenience and explaining the situation. They closed the message by offering in return, these “cute images of kittens.”

The message of course was shared and spread across social networks. Your audience will forgive something like this and enjoy the humor in the apology. Stuff happens. It's forgive-able and they took the opportunity when it arose, and got some extra attention. But if it happens continually, for example, you have a strategy problem. And you’ll lose customers. No amount of kitten videos is going to save you that.

Culture vs. Strategy

Now, I don’t think one trumps the other, however, Mr Parr makes some compelling arguments about culture I think we can all take to heart.

  1. Culture isn’t just the soft stuff. It’s not just free cafeterias, nap rooms, and humorous pop-up boxes and emails. It’s a clear set of values that guides the way you operate.
  2. Passion leads to effective operations. When employees want to work for you, strike that, when they are passionate about working for you, they become engaged and perform well. You get better performance from your employees because they are engaged, have empowerment, and feel involved.
  3. It breeds innovation. A good culture empowers employee to take a certain level of calculated risk knowing the repercussions won’t be severe and the rewards great.

Of course, these things aren’t enough for sustainable success. A good product at the right price is what makes the wheels turn. And then again, you can’t do that without the strong cultural involvement from your organization. So one thing does not trump the other.

What is your opinion?

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