Why I’d Prefer A Leader Say No Rather Than Say I Don’t Know

I’d almost always rather hear “No” than to hear “I don’t know”.

Don’t misunderstand. I love when a leader admits they don’t know something. I believe every leader has something to learn and should learn first from their team.

But, I have strong contentment against hearing “I don’t know” when the real answer has already been decided – and the answer is NO!

A coward says “I don’t know” when they already know their answer is no.

When you know the answer is no. Tell me no.

In my experience, weak leaders use phrases like:

“Let me think about it” – which really means I’m too scared right not to let you know how I really feel.

“We might consider this” – which really means we will never, ever consider this, but I feel better telling you we will rather than look you in the face with the real answer.

“Let me pray about that” – which really means I have no intention of praying at all, but I sound so much more spiritual when I act like I will.

“We’ll see” – which really means I’ve already “seen” and the future does not look promising for your idea.

“It could be an option down the road” – which really means it will be so far down the road neither of us will ever be here.

Afraid of potential conflict, weak leaders make you believe there’s a chance – even when they’ve already decided there is not a chance.

What’s the damage of saying “maybe” when the real answer is “no”?

  • Unanswered questions bring confusion to the team.
  • Energy is wasted dreaming about something that will never happen.
  • Disappointment is bigger when the person learns the real answer (Or never receives one).
  • The team loses confidence in the leader.

Is this you want, leader?

Strong leaders, even though they know “no” is not what you want to hear, tell you the truth up front. They eliminate the guesswork.

Hopefully if you follow this blog you know without me saying it the answer shouldn’t always be no. I’ve written numerous posts about how good leaders empower rather than control. In fact, I’d be in favor of letting people mistakes before I would be in favor of telling them no – even when I sense no is the right answer. We learn best from mistakes. If, however, you know you’ve made up your mind, stop me from guessing, stop building false hope, and tell me what you’re really thinking.

Leader, what door have you kept open even though you know you’ve already closed it?

Make the call. Do it now!

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19 thoughts on “Why I’d Prefer A Leader Say No Rather Than Say I Don’t Know

  1. I learned to say "no" or "yes" with my youngest. He assumes every "maybe" is a "yes" because he figures he can still cut a deal. So if it actually is a maybe (which means "if___, then yes"), then I will tell him up front what the conditions are rather than saying "maybe". This works with adults as well. Let your yes be yes and your no be no, and give your conditions up front.

  2. I agree with the premise. Regarding the previous discussion with Brian, I think the key phrase from this post by Ron is "When you know the answer is no." There are times a leader genuinely is not sure or wants to truly consider an idea, that could then turn into a yes as easily as a no. But to me this also brings Jesus' words in Matthew 5:37 – "let your yes be yes and your no be no."

    In times where we know the answer is no, sometimes it's awkward to deal with someone's feelings of disappointment or their expectation of a yes. As someone who at times struggles with people pleasing, I find myself trapped at times by what feels like no option but 'yes' by someone's request or demand. But I own my words, so rather than commit to something out of obligation, unless I feel led to say yes, I strive to say no. This is not easy and I don't always succeed but I am working on letting the answer be what it really is in those cases – no.

  3. I am a fairly new reader of your blog, and as someone who once held leadership roles in my small country church, I can SO agree with this post! From years of work in customer service, I've learned many of the tell-tale signs of when someone is genuinely considering an idea/suggestion vs. when they're just trying to delay (or avoid) the eventual "no." And to be honest, what you're addressing in your post is one of THE main reasons I have not held a real leadership role in the church for more than 10 years: the dissapointment and lost confidence in others that this causes is even more difficult to handle when you're in (or considering) a leadership position that you don't feel 100% qualified to do and desire fellow leaders' experience and expertise to help guide you! 🙁

    Thank you, Pastor Ron, for providing simple, straightforward guidance and being a Godly example to others… I look forward to continuing to read more from you! 🙂

  4. There have been times when people would blind side me with ideas or suggestions that I just never considered! On a few of those, I had to make a snap decision based on my gut, but to be honest, if I have the option and time is available, I will take the time to consider what has been handed to me. I do make sure that person or group understands it is something I haven’t thought about, and want to take a few minutes. I try not to take too much time in thinking about it, too often when they bring something to me, it generally has a short shelf life to it. Not much time for thought! I just don’t like the idea of rushing in when I don’t have to. Mistakes happen that others have to pay for. I want to consider that.
    Twitter: bryankr

  5. The real issue here is the leader who "knows the answer is no." Drawing conclusions without "thinking/praying/considering" creates a leader who will eventually be viewed with suspicion and mistrust. The "strong" leader that you describe is actually a very weak one operating as an independent entrepreneur.

    • I disagree. There will be times the leader has already “thought/prayed/considered”. He or she may have a vision ready to implement and the request doesn't fit. In those times, it's better to be honest up front rather than appease people. Thanks.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

      • "There will be times…" – but that's not what your post says. How can a leader have thought/prayed/considered a request that hasn't even been made? It is not appeasing people but honoring that people's opinions and requests are worth taking into consideration. A listening leader is one who hears, takes into consideration and provides feedback.

        All I'm saying is that you've stated that "strong" leaders do something that I actually think weakens them.

        • Okay. I hope you read the rest of my posts, because I'm certainly not advocating what you indicate I'm advocating, but maybe this post doesn't say all it should or could. For me personally, whether or not the leader is strong or weak, if the mind is closed to an issue, I'd rather know it than be appeased. Thanks for your comments.
          Twitter: Ronedmondson