Is there someone in your life that when you run into them your heart sinks a bit because you know you are about to lose hours in your life you will never get back? One of those people recently popped back into my life again after several years without contact. This person was an old time “friend” who always took more than he gave back. He told me that he wanted to meet with me to “hang out.

One of the hardest things for many people to say is “no.” Conversely, the word “no” needs to be an increasingly popular word in a leader’s vocabulary. The vibrant, effective leader knows how and when to say no. In fact, saying no is an essential leadership skill.

As a leader grows in influence more and more ideas, options, and opportunities present themselves. By their nature and position, leaders also attract more and more people who want your time and attention. Many of these opportunities and relationships are helpful and productive. However, many are not. Moreover, the sheer volume of people and needs that desire attention can burnout a leader.

Thus, the leader has a choice: Being Busy or Being Proactive . Busy is a celebrated trophy in our society today. However, busy always comes with a cost. It is not sustainable personally or professionally. Busy leaders take on so many projects, fires, and opportunities that they lose the ability to maintain quality. Something must give, and busy people often sacrifice themselves, their family, and their friendships. Ironically, the more effective or productive you become, the more at risk you are of getting caught in the busy trap.

The alternative is Being Proactive.

Here are a few questions you can ask to assess whether an opportunity or relationship is worthy of your attention and pursuit:

  1. What is the potential for positive impact to your agency? Community? You?
  2. What are the costs for pursuing such an opportunity?
  3. Do you have the bandwidth to take on another project/mentor/friend/committee?
  4. If the answer to 3 is no but you still want to move ahead, what are you willing to cut from your schedule or task list?
  5. How will this affect you and your family?
  6. Is there fruit or likely fruit from your effort?
  7. Is this opportunity in your sweet spot? Or the sweet spot of your organization?

Asking these questions can save time, energy, relationships, and opportunities that are worth pursuing. That is why when my old friend contacted me, I ultimately declined the invitation. It was not easy to say no . It didn’t feel good to me or to him. However, I am confident that my decision was rooted in both wisdom and kindness. No one wants to be resented or to led on.

I would have been guilty of both if I said yes. Later that week, a young professional I mentor contacted me with a question. We met for a couple hours and worked out the issue. It felt good to be available to help. I know that our time together will bear fruit as my mentee grows and develops. Truth be told, I was only able to say “yes” to this opportunity because I have said “no” to others.

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