I arrived early that morning and ordered some sweet tea, I know, not really the breakfast of champions but I love their sweet tea. I grabbed a table in the back of the restaurant and got my laptop out knowing I had hours of work ahead of me.
For the next few hours I got a lot done, but as the clouds rolled in so did the parents with kids who wanted to play in the indoor play area. I happened to be seated directly across from the play area entrance.
A mom arrived with her young daughter, I would guess the child was about two-years-old. She was at the age where she believed she was independent but her vocabulary consisted primarily of “yes” and “no.” At one point her mom stuck her head into the play area and asked, “Kailee, do you want to get an ice cream cone?” Kailee came running towards the door and loudly shouted, “yes.”
When they came back to their table, which was next to mine, I noticed that Kailee had an adult size ice cream cone which required her to use both hands to hold on to it. Within seconds Kailee made her way to the play area door and tried to figure out how to open the door while holding her ice cream cone with both hands. Her mom asked her if she wanted to eat her ice cream cone and Kailee replied, “yes!” Her mom explained that if she wanted to eat her ice cream she couldn’t go in the play area. This caused a look of pure shock and horror from the young child! Her mom then changed the question and asked if she wanted to go in the play area and Kailee also replied, “yes!” And her mom explained that if she wanted to go into the play area she would have to hand over her ice cream cone. The idea that she could only do one of those things was turning this young girl’s world upside down!
I think a lot of leaders make the same mistake that this two-year-old made. As leaders, when we say yes to leadership we naturally say no to other things. When you say yes to being your team Captain you also say no to yelling at the referees. When you say yes to being a Division Leader at work you say no to ignoring the unethical decisions of a team member. When you say yes to serving as the Director of an organization you say no to public behaviors that would taint the reputation of that organization.
Great leaders understand that when we say yes to leadership we must say no to other things, but too many leaders want to yes to everything. They frequently behave like a two-year-old who wants to eat her ice cream cone and go into the play area. When leaders behave this way it’s their people who suffer because they are the ones who have to clean up the leader’s mess.
An immature leader takes her ice cream cone down the play area slide leaving a sticky mess behind her.
A great leader understands that leadership requires choices.
When you say yes to leadership make sure you have a clear understanding of what you are saying yes to and what you are saying no to. When you say yes to everything you create a mess and no matter how wonderful you may be, no one wants to clean up your mess.
Great leaders say yes & no.