Taking ‘No’ Out of Your Playbook and Why it Matters


Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome – Samuel Johnson

Leaders understand that obstacles are a part of the landscape on the road to success. But how many leaders are self-aware enough to realize that some of the obstacles blocking their desired success are self-inflicted?

When what stands between your employees or volunteers and potential success is a constant drum beat of no or the good ole standby of, “We’ve never done it this way before,” then you are capping your talent and are hindering your chances of success.

In his book, It’s Not About the Coffee, past Starbucks International president Howard Behar writes of the necessity of taking ‘no’ out of your playbook. His thought was that we can grow so accustomed to saying no to our customers or employees that soon these roadblocks take on a life of their own and become the unspoken rules, the No Book, that stands between you and your potential success.

One example Behar shared about Starbucks turning an everyday no into a yes was by opening the door early in the morning. Customers would come by ten minutes before the store opened and they were routinely turned away. The message the prospective customer would get was, “No, we’re not open yet.” When they realized they could say yes they began to open ten minutes before the posted opening to serve their customers.

To be sure, not every yes will guarantee success and not every no will deny it. But what you must realize is that until you release the power of possibilities in your people they will never have a chance to find out. Taking no out of your playbook will unlock their potential and give them much needed freedom to grow. That is critical to your success. Here is why taking no out of your playbook matters to you as a leader.

It empowers your people.

There is no better way to empower your people than to release their creative ingenuity with a yes attitude. It signals that you believe in them and want them to reach their full potential. Empowered people are driven people and are more invested in the product and outcomes. When you remove no from the playbook and replace it with a yes then you elevate everyone to a new level.

It puts the focus where it belongs.

When no is replaced with a yes then the playbook becomes a different document. The paradigm shifts. You go from paying defense to playing offense. Now instead of an inward focus it’s an outward one. Where once it was all about you, now it’s about those you serve. When your purpose revolves around a “yes we can” mentality then there is no room for “no we can’t” detractors. When your people are free to focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t do it will make a world of difference.

It creates momentum.

Some leaders exert a lot of energy and waste a lot of time trying to figure out the secret to creating a culture of momentum. Sadly what some do not realize is that they are the reason why it’s lacking. Why? They haven’t taken no out of their playbooks and consequently their much needed momentum lies dormant.

What would it take to motivate you? Former Miami Dolphin’s great Bob Kuechenberg shares how he got his. He tells the story of his father and uncle who were human cannonballs in carnivals. His father told him, “go to college or be a cannonball,” said Kuechenberg. Then one day his uncle came out of the cannon and missed the net and hit the Ferris wheel. It was then that Kuechenberg decided to go to college.

As a leader you can either take no out of your playbook and put in a resounding yes, or you can be shot out of a cannon. Why not release the potential of your people, focus on those you serve, and generate the momentum you need? Say yes!


© 2014 Doug Dickerson

I invite your feedback!

1. What “no’s” are the most demoralizing for you or your office?

2. In what practical ways can you learn to say yes and empower others?

3. How would your office or organization benefit by taking no out of the playbook and replacing it with a yes?





About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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2 Responses to Taking ‘No’ Out of Your Playbook and Why it Matters

  1. Stephen Leslie says:

    I totally agree that ‘No!’ as a response to the majority of requests can block or lose the momentum and energy in an organisation. However, it’s not as simple as always replacing ‘no’ with ‘yes’. The key is to work with positive ideas, even if just germinal, and encourage deeper thinking and creative problem solving. This means a style of leadership that leaves the door open, that encourages on-going conversations with colleagues regardless of seniority, and an openness to new ways of doing things. Sometimes, ‘maybe’ or ‘What if? ……’ or other dialogue starters are better than yes. The key thing is – you don’t often just say ‘No!’.


  2. Great advice. Thank you for sharing.


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