The 2 most difficult words for a Leader

Sandra, a recently elevated leader in a small but growing wholesale garment chain, was very excited to be given the opportunity to lead a group of sales specialists. Although very successful at sales herself, her experience in leadership was limited. After six months in the role she was burnt out, frustrated and not engaging her team well to produce the outcomes the organisation needed from her. “What is going on??”, she screamed in frustration, knowing she had put in long hours and hard yards to build her sales targets as best she could.

Whether you lead a global corporation, a local entity, your own business, your own team, your family or community group – even yourself (heck, self-leadership is one of the most challenging roles) – there are, in my experience two incredibly difficult words/concepts for leaders. I will introduce them (they won’t surprise at one level) and explain what lurks beneath them in their insidious intention to keep us small.

The 2 most difficult words for a Leader

The first, the word NO!

It is, in my view and experience with any leader (and many others), it is not used near enough. We wonder why we are so busy, overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted. Having worked with many – both women and men – who choose to use this word sparingly, I have discovered a few interesting issues, when I have dug a little deeper. To say no may mean you open yourself up to:

  1. Not being liked or accepted (aka rejection)
  2. Losing control and looking bad (aka fear of failure)

In Sandra’s case she knew, being the most experienced and successful sales person in the team that she could do anything. Hence, when she began her role, every project, every request, every deliverable she was offered, she took on. She never said no!! Individually these pieces were not a problem, but when she sat back and realised the balls she had been dropping, she knew something was wrong.

The second is the word HELP!

When we take on too much or are ill-equipped or experienced to undertake, we can open ourselves to the same issues of overwhelm, frustration and exhaustion. And to ask for help could mean, at a deeper level:

  1. Fear of not being good enough
  2. Fear of being found out to be a fake, phoney or fraud, or

In Sandra’s case, her power lay in the sales role and to some extent in managing one or 2 junior staff. But to lead a team of 30, she was lost at sea. And to acknowledge she could not do her job, would mean a sign of weakness or incompetence, and she could never do that. The irony being that she was failing, and it would not be long before others would truly notice and possibly remove her from the role.

As a leader, consider,

  1. Where do I need to say no?
  2. Where could I ask for help?

Or, just keep doing what you are doing and getting the results you are getting? Ask Sandra!!

These maybe the greatest gifts you can give yourself as a leader and to your people.

End note 1:

When we ask for help, we are really saying “I value you and your contribution”. It is a gift you pass onto others. Think of a time when someone – a friend, a colleague, a boss, a partner – asked you for help. How did it feel to be asked? I, for one, feel very trusted and empowered when this happens to me. What about you?

End note 2:

When Sandra “got” was going on for her, she made the choice to courageously re-prioritise what was important for her success and chose to say no to some work and delegate other work (aka ask for help). Her team became empowered and with new boundaries set, her role as a leader began to flourish. Go Sandra!!



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