As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who Empower others.

—Bill Gates

The tragedy of the disempowered life extends to all aspects of work. Unless you change it.

Tina reports to you. And one of the things she reports to you is that she is stressed and incapable of doing all of her work.

After a long talk about her life on the job, it becomes clear that Tina has no goals, plans, or commitments. It is no wonder, therefore, that people feel free to waste Tina’s time. People that Tina doesn’t even care about are taking all her time. She can’t say no to them only because she hasn’t said yes to anything else.

You talk to her.

“The greatest value of planning and goal-setting is that it gives you your own life to live. It puts you back in charge. It allows you to focus on what’s most important to you. So you won’t walk around all week singing the Broadway song, ‘I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No’.”


You begin to sing that song to her. She begs you to stop.

“Okay, how do I turn it around?” Tina asks you. “How do I learn to say no?”

“Ask yourself these questions: ‘What goals are most important to me? And how much time do I give them? What people are most important to me? And how much time do I give them?’”

We hear many complaints from people in business that are going through the same kind of scattered lives. It’s as if they’re dying from a thousand tiny distractions. They report a life of being constantly drained by other people’s requests. People poking their heads in all day saying, “Gotta minute? Gotta minute?”

Slam the door on those poking heads. Those incessant talking heads give you a life in which you have not learned to say no.

Once you learn it, teach it to your people, too. Make it an honorable thing.

Your people’s access to focused work will depend on their willingness to develop a little-used muscle that we call the No Muscle. If they never use this muscle, it won’t perform for them when the chips are down. It will be too weak to work. Any request by any co-worker or relative will pull them from your mission.

The key to teaching your people to develop the No muscle is to first develop their Yes Muscle. If they will say yes to the things that are important to them, then saying no to what’s not important will get easier and easier. Help them verbalize what they want. Make them say it out loud.

“Tina, you need to know what you want, know it in advance, and chances are you’ll get it. Know what you want from your career, know it in advance, and chances are you’ll get it. It’s easy to say no to something if you’ve already said yes to something better.”