Early Career

Learning To Say “No” Is A Leadership Must

It may sound counter-intuitive, but “learning to say no is at the very heart of leadership,” says Valia Glytsis, CEO and founder of The Paradox of Leadership, a boutique leadership education firm.  During the May Women Lead webinar, Creating Courageous Boundaries: Leadership Development from the Inside-Out, Valia shared her belief that “leadership is about how courageous you are and what you stand for.”

A key part of demonstrating what you stand for is to learn how to “start choosing what to say yes and no to,” Valia explained. To do that, it is necessary to learn how to respond rather than react and understand that a response is a choice while a reaction is a habit.

Valia outlines five concepts she believes are necessary to start making good choices and set boundaries.

Choice: To change, there has to be a compelling ‘why’

First, you have to make a choice to stop being a “people pleaser” and saying yes to every request. To make a change usually requires some discomfort so being resistant may mean you are too comfortable. Ask yourself: where am I too comfortable? where am I making excuses? “If there is a compelling enough ‘why,’ to make a breakthrough, you will do it,” according to Valia. “By not setting boundaries for ourselves, we let someone else’s boundaries be more important,” she added. “When we try to do too much, we are probably not setting boundaries and the results are that we are tired, we need an escape, a new job or a new team,” she says.

Compass: Move toward fear or freedom

After making the choice to set boundaries, Valia recommends “having a very clear compass.” Dig deep to discover what is valuable and meaningful to you, and then activate your values:

  • Make them actionable (practical) rather than merely aspirational.
  • Create definitions and behaviors – for example, a list of commitments about what you stand for.
  • Acknowledge short-term discomfort for long-term gain – remember that what you are doing now is in the service of something bigger in the long-term.
  • Ensure they are holistic (personal and professional) – ask yourself how to activate them across all facets of your life.
  • Set clear daily intentions – track progress every day and be proud.

Valia suggests filtering “every decision through this list” and “speaking to your capacity” by focusing on what you can do rather than explaining all the reasons you cannot do something.

It may feel uncomfortable saying no at first, but it will get easier once you know why you are doing it. Valia suggests asking yourself when unsure of which way to go: “Am I moving toward fear or toward freedom?”

Curiosity: Avoid judgment and communicate

Valia recommends getting curious rather than judgmental of others because “the brain cannot be in curiosity and judgment at the same time.” When you start to feel judgmental, she says to ask yourself, “What could be going on with this person? How can I find more compassion?”

By being curious, open and communicative prevents unreasonable expectations, which she calls “resentments under construction.” “It’s another way of setting boundaries,” she adds. “We have to communicate it so that it doesn’t bubble up in the form of resentment.”

Connection: Have the courage to ask deeper questions

Most people have a public side – actions and behaviors that the world sees, and a private side – needs, fears, and beliefs that we guard on the inside. Valia says, “We talk at each other and only speak to the action and behavior level, but true leadership happens under the watermark.”

She recommends having the courage to ask the deeper questions because it will lead to setting boundaries as “a vehicle for trust rather than something scary and isolated.”

Creativity: Develop empowering rituals

In this case, creativity means being open-minded to what is possible. “The habits that got you here are not the habits that will get you to your next level of leadership,” Valia says. She encourages people to create rituals that will transform current behaviors and allow you to choose empowering actions rather than focusing on what other people want from you.

For example, spending the first 10 minutes of your morning setting your daily intentions and priorities is a choice, but checking your Facebook feed is a reaction.

As Valia says, “energy is a currency,” and where it comes from doesn’t matter. The key is to uncover and activate it so that you can focus it for optimal success.

Experience the full benefit of Valia Glytsis’s presentation by watching the webinar today. A full library of previous Forté webinars are available to Premium Access Pass members. For $100/year, Access Pass members receive exclusive invitations to Women Lead webinars.  If your company is a Forté sponsor you may be entitled to free access pass.  Check our sponsor page to see if your organization is a partner.  Access Pass members also have exclusive use of the Forté Job Center; you can browse positions and post your resumé to be seen by leading companies seeking top talent.


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