Saying Yes

I recently finished Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit. He presented a great question that I have been pondering over the last few weeks. Bungay Stanier wrote, “Let’s be clear: What exactly are you saying yes to?” The converse of that is: “What are you saying no to?” I have been weighing out committing to some type of self-development program since the start of the year. I am weighing out what will have to change or what I will have to say “no” to in order to fit a new program into my life. Because saying yes will be saying no to something else. That or the yes will end up being something to bail out on two weeks into the program, since I am unwilling to say no to what is already in my life.


When I say yes, I want it to be a firm, clear yes. Not a yes and then I never show up for the monthly meeting or do the homework or give only partial effort. It’s a hell yes or a hell no. I’m all in or all out.

This is what to consider when saying yes:

Be very clear

For me, being very clear is understanding the full ramifications of saying yes. How much time out of my day, week, or month will be committed if I say yes? Where will I fit this into my schedule? If I am on the road traveling, can I still remain committed? Is my physical presence needed or could this be possible virtually? Do I need to show up at meetings at a specific time or can I complete something at 1 AM on my smartphone? What is the investment in money, time and, most importantly, energy? This takes digging unless you’ve committed to something easy like buying cupcakes for the soccer game or offering to collect your neighbor’s mail. Unless it’s straight forward, make sure that you are clear on what you are saying yes to.

Have defined boundaries

We all have people (or animals) in our lives that test our boundaries. The person who is consistently late, the dog who scratches at the bedroom door at 4 in the morning or the co-worker who never turns the project in as prescribed. They are all just testing your boundaries. Be clear that you will be leaving at 8 AM, no exceptions. Don’t open the door for your dog unless there is thunder or fireworks. Only accept the project in PowerPoint and never in Excel. When you have defined boundaries, it makes saying yes (and no) a lot easier.

Know your priorities

For me personally, this has changed dramatically over the last two years. I am no longer married, I no longer drink and I eat a plant-based diet. What I said yes to two years ago wouldn’t work now. I traveled to Peru with a friend instead of a husband. My rotary club’s biggest fund raiser is a beer festival, so I opted out. I need to find new uses for my sous vide and outdoor grill. As I weigh out these two self-development programs, one is focused on writing and the other is about aligning with abundance. Is writing my focus or aligning with abundance? I think that aligning with abundance will help fund the writing down the road. My priority is abundance.

Nope. You cannot do it all.

I feel like I coach a lot more women who suffer from this than men. I coach some folks with StrengthsFinder and I find that if someone has Responsibility (take psychological ownership of what they say they will do) in their top 5 strengths, they have a REAL hard time saying no. Or letting go. Heck, I don’t have Responsibility in my top 10 strengths, but I had a real hard time letting go that I was not sending Christmas Cards out this year (so as not to feel like I overlooked my friends when they didn’t get one). Acknowledging that you can’t do it all can be powerful. Instead of planning and worrying and losing sleep on what you can’t possibly accomplish, let go and don’t say yes. If you say yes, make sure it doesn’t tip the scale towards overwhelm.

Pleasing others

I love the Wayne Dwyer quote: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” So, don’t say yes purely in the hope of impressing others. I thought about this with my Christmas cards this year. I didn’t have a recent family photo, I didn’t have much to report, and I feel like sending cards has been diminishing over the last few years. I felt the need to send cards was about pleasing others. I believe it’s a nice gesture and I appreciate the cards sent to me, but with a busy travel schedule around the holidays, it was a point that overwhelmed me rather than filled me with holiday warmth. I found other ways to share holiday warmth and stopped worrying about pleasing others. Say yes for yourself.

Everything is a trade-off. If I say yes to one thing, it means no to something else. It also works in reverse; if I say no to something, it means yes to something else. It’s all an act of discernment and being choosy about what you engage with. What are you saying no to that really should be a yes?

5 Strategies to Optimize Your Strengths

As leaders and managers we seem to spend a lot of time focusing on everyone’s weaknesses or short-comings; very often our own. Performance improvement plans, appraisals, report cards and even weighing yourself can focus on the negative. The area that needs improvement. The areas we or our direct reports fell short. I can focus on the typo my assistant had in an email and totally overlook the project he took on all by himself, flawlessly. It’s always easy to default to picking out what went wrong in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Whether it’s the B on the report card with the balance being all A’s, remember the brownie you had yesterday when you weigh a pound more even though you also ran 10 miles or focusing on the budget shortfall when sales are way above expectations. We focus on the weaknesses and try and mitigate them.optimize your strengths
How about focusing and leveraging your or others strengths? I can remember a Marketing Director who was horrible at catching typos. Catching typos is pretty important when it comes to marketing collateral. The director was outstanding at design and implementation but wasn’t that great at details. I can identify with this. I’m horrible at details. Grammar even. So do we send the Marketing Director and me to a course on finding mistakes and typos or do we find someone who “loves” to find all the flaws? They actually find it a challenge to make sure an entire document is flawless. We can send us to courses, school and for an MBA but it’s only going to mitigate the issues. We will never be flawless. It’s best to play to our strengths and find someone else to pick up the slack on our weaknesses.

So here is how to do that:

1. Inventory. Take an inventory of what you are good at. In Scott Adams’ book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, he suggests recalling what you loved to do when you were 10 years old. What could you spend hours at? I can remember setting up class rooms and pretending to be a teacher or creating plays when I was a kid in our basement. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I like facilitating and coaching. Another option is to take an assessment like Strengths Finders. If you purchase the book, they give you an access code to take the assessment. My top three strengths are Strategic, Relator and Positivity. It’s good to know. Being a claims adjuster or mortician might be a bad fit. Inventory your strengths.

2. Delegate. Figure out your weaknesses, and if possible, delegate them. I’m really fortunate that one of the members of “Cathy’s Brain Trust” (folks who give me feedback before I post these posts) is an English Major. Actually, you all are very fortunate that she is an English Major because grammar isn’t my strong suit. I also don’t have a very good handle on Excel. I can do the basics but it’s tedious to me. I have no desire to attend classes to become an Excel wiz. If I can avoid working on a spreadsheet, I delegate. So look at your team. Are you trying to make someone who loves sitting at a computer trouble shooting, try and improve their customer service skills? If they aren’t friendly and accommodating, perhaps there is someone else who is better suited to take phone calls. As any good team coach would say, put your aces in their places. Delegate your weaknesses.

3. Dedicate. Now dedicate some blocks of time to your strengths and get into the flow. Csíkszentmihályi (the psychologist who coined the idea of flow) described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Parlay what you are good at so that you can do your best work. This is much more productive (and enjoyable) instead of trying to fix your weaknesses. It’s also a much more positive experience. Dedicate blocks of time to flow.

4. Reflect. Takes some time to reflect on your accomplishments. From my years of coaching experience, this is something most of us don’t do. Take a look back on what you accomplished with your strengths. Acknowledge yourself for all that you have contributed to the world. Even small things can add up. Did you just run your fastest time for a 5k? Did you spend a half hour with your aging mother? Did you pay it forward by buying a latte for the car behind you? Did you make a contribution to ALS? Did you make sure you smiled at a stranger at the grocery store? All of these things add up. Take stock and reflect on all that you have accomplished.

5. Assess. Assess your optimization of your strengths. The strengths that you have are your gifts. Make sure you are using them. Take my biggest strength, Strategic. I’m talented in creating alternative ways to proceed. If there is any given scenario, I quickly spot patterns and issues. When I am coaching or facilitating, I’m open to all options which enhances my students and clients thinking. When I am given a set curriculum that is regimented and unbending, I might as well be in a straight jacket. I suffocate. I make sure that I have an outlet for my strategic strengths. If you were a concert pianist, a toy xylophone would be an insult and unbearable. If someone enjoys people, don’t put them in a window-less office for 8 hours a day. Assess the utilization of your strengths.

I realize that most of us can’t spend 60 hours a week on just our strengths and delegate taking the trash out for the rest of our lives. I do think you can strike a balance so that you and the folks around you can feel empowered by making sure that their gifts are being utilized on a daily basis.