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The Art of Saying “No”—Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit

Written by Randy Taussig on August 6, 2015

Implementers EOS

Lesson #7: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit

The Art of Saying NoI used to be a bit intimidated by Air Traffic Control (ATC). I believed they were the ultimate authority for each flight, and I went to great lengths to always follow their instructions. But as I gained a better understanding of my roles and responsibilities in the air, I realized that I’m the one ultimately accountable for the safety of each flight. That means sometimes questioning or refusing ATC’s direction. Consider these examples:

  • Prior to a recent flight from southern NJ to Boston, I received a course heading that was leading me right into a building thunderstorm. I respectfully declined and was able to work with ATC to reach a better plan.
  • My plane once experienced a temperature inversion as we picked up icing on the wing during approach into Raleigh Durham Intl airport. ATC instructed me to “hold” until they could find an appropriate slot for landing. I respectfully declined while explaining my situation. They graciously worked me in sooner, leading to a safe and uneventful landing.

In both cases, I had a clear vision of how to get to my destination safely, understood my role as pilot in command, and could confidently say “no” to ATC’s instructions.

Saying “No” can lead to more effective business growth

Consider, for example, a real estate company that purchased a building to lease back to a manufacturer. The deal was $1 million on paper but ended up draining $300K worth of capital and one full year of internal resources.

Many business owners hesitate to pass up on what seems like good opportunities — they find it hard to say “no.” But sometimes the new “shiny” stuff can distract you from your company vision and drastically drain your resources (time and capital).

When you’re clear about where you’re going and what you do best, you gain the ability to decipher between real opportunities and dangerous distractions. For those of us who love to consider the next new thing, learning to say “no” could be the most powerful decision we ever make.

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