“Saying “NO” More Often: The Push-Back That Defines You”

I remember working with an ambitious senior woman a few years ago. She was hugely frustrated. She’d recently applied for the top job in her company. And someone else far less qualified got promoted over her head.

She was at her wit’s end. She didn’t know what she’d done – or not done – that prevented the Board from appointing her.  She was hard working – indeed, she often took paperwork home and  worked into the night, evenings and weekends. She got results. She was successful in her role. She inspired her team with loyalty. So what was the problem? What could possibly prevent her from being leader?

File:Margaret Thatcher.png

I was never a fan of Margaret Thatcher(see above), one of the most successful of British leaders of the 20th century. She was a controversial politician who was able to polarise opinion, even at her funeral. So what I’m about to say is not out of admiration. Respect, yes, admiration, no.

To be a leader is to be respected. One of the key ways to winning respect is to be clear as to what you stand for – including being ready to say, “No”. Thatcher was famous for saying, “No!” In this clip she said it three times….

Margaret Thatcher’s body language and voice are authoritative, emphatic and direct. She is utterly in control and knows it. Even with the massed ranks of the Opposition in front of her, she looks confident and impressive. Worthy of respect.

Now what mistake could my senior woman client have been making? The clue is in what I told you about her earlier. She had so much to do, she was taking work home. Working this much meant she got overtired and became emotional and reactive. She was working all weekend. She was failing to delegate as much as she should. Constantly firefighting, she had no time to initiate ideas. Because she didn’t give herself time to think, she failed to anticipate – hence the firefighting and lack of delegation. It became a vicious cycle. Most importantly, she failed to win respect of her colleagues since she was too willing to do as she was asked.

Many senior women that I have worked with are great at winning rapport. They are charming, easy to get on with and well liked. They work hard and the quality of what they produce is first class. These qualities got them promoted to their current position. However they won’t get promoted beyond this role until they understand how to make a stand and take the hard decision to say “No” from time to time.


About anrah

Anrah is a business development consultancy specialising in helping senior women in engineering and science, their teams and doctoral students increase 'presence', improve communication and generate impact to win stakeholder buy-in at the highest level.
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