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 | By Dan Cellucci

As a servant leader, you can say ‘no’ toward your greater ‘yes’

I have had the consistent blessing to work with many other type-A perfectionists who believe strongly in the company mission and take great pride in their work. The downside of this environment is that we can be allergic to saying “no,” and often find ourselves overwhelmed, overextended and running on empty, which isn’t good for anyone. If any of that resonates with you, here are three ways to say “no” that won’t compromise your more important “yes” to your mission and to the Lord.


Ask to prioritize

Often, requests from supervisors or others aren’t bad or wrong, they just might not be as urgent for you. Sometimes those same requests aren’t urgent even for the asker. Before saying yes or no, ask for help prioritizing where the request fits among other things on your plate. Others may not always appreciate what your full list looks like, but by providing some context and asking for help to rank the item, the person asking can give some additional context that will allow you to say “yes” at the right time.

Take some time

Depending on your position, you may not be able to turn down work requests. However, it might be prudent, especially if you’re busy or focused on other things, to schedule some time to discuss the request later. This allows the opportunity for three things: first, for you to be in a better space to receive the request; second, for the asker to be more intentional in the way they make their request; and third, for the asker to potentially realize they can do it themselves or that it’s not that important.

Try the “Positive No”

Occasionally, there are requests you just can’t do for some reason or another. It can feel harsh to simply say “no.” Author William Ury suggests a helpful format for your “no” in which you, first, affirm the goodness in the request, second, state your no, and third, offer some way you can be helpful. For example, “Dan, that project sounds really worthwhile. I am not in a position to get involved now, but what I can do is introduce you to Emily who would be really helpful.”

Being a servant leader doesn’t mean always saying “yes.” Prioritizing your “yes” responses and saying the right “no’s” in the correct way can ensure you are serving with purpose, values and vision.

Dan Cellucci is the CEO of the Catholic Leadership Institute.

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