No beats Yes EVERY TIME.


I know that this may seem counterintuitive BUT I am a firm believer that no can sometimes do more for developing leadership skill than yes ever will. This applies in the classroom, in the school building, and even at the district leadership level. When we hear “no” we have two choices, we can accept the no and do nothing OR we can go back, rethink what we proposed and go after accomplishing the same goal in a different way. What I mean here is that the choice to evolve is ours. Andrew Solomon has a powerful TED Talk on this. He talks about how we can take what disappoints us most and use it to emerge a better more resilient person.

We don’t seek the painful experiences that hew our identities, but we seek our identities in the wake of painful experiences. We cannot bear a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe that it’s purposeful. – Andrew Solomon

While he was using the lens of traumatic life experiences, his words can apply in the work place as well. Think about it, our students do some of their best work when they are presented with restrictions. When we as adults say this end must be accomplished using only what you have on hand students are excited to rise to the challenge. It is uncomfortable to feel underprepared or under resourced or underserved but it also creates space for innovation to happen. The Harvard Business Review puts it this way, “The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.” (read the full article here) When we do not give students all of the answers and leave room for them to try really hard, stop, recover, and try again we build resilience that will carry them for a lifetime. The same is true with adults. When we do not achieve success the first time out, instead of giving up on the idea altogether GO BACK rethink the work (stop any new projects), build a new and improved way of getting it done (recover), and either pitch the idea again or see if it is something that you can do anyway within the normal scope of your work. I can tell you that every “no” I have ever heard pushed my thinking and led to risks I would never have taken and solutions I would never have imagined. Do NOT be afraid of the no, be wary of the yes.

As leaders, this principal applies to everyone from classroom teachers to district superintendents. Are you skillfully using no? Are you looking to build resilience into your staff? Are you working to create a culture of innovative thinkers who when confronted with a problem go out of the box to solve it? If you are and you haven’t tried no yet give it a try (in the right places) and let me know the result. Remember, to lead is to constantly learn and while others may not tell you the truth, I always will. Restrictions push us to improve our practice. They aren’t the barrier, they are the catalyst to your best ideas. Embrace the “no” in order to discover what the leader in you can actually accomplish. -Dr. Kia