The Importance of Saying No

10 May 2021  |  Insights
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Do you ever wonder what makes a good politician? You might think the phrase is an oxymoron and, with the lobbying scandal continuing to feature regularly in the headlines, I don’t blame you. But, having worked in parliament for more than three years I can testify, hand on my heart, that they aren’t unicorns. They exist.

Whatever their political persuasion, these good politicians share a common purpose: they’re committed to and passionate about helping people, and they’re focused and effective in achieving it.

A huge part of this focus is learning to say no; and believe me, that is no simple feat. The majority of requests that deluge an MP’s inbox daily are for causes that are deserving of their time, attention and resource, whether it’s aid for children starving across the world or the housing shortages we have at home. The need often feels overwhelming – even more so in light of the pandemic – but the good politicians are the ones who have committed to a select number of causes so that they can see them through.

This challenge is not exclusive to politics. Whether as an organisation, a charity, a church or an individual, we all face overwhelming need in the world and are faced with the limitations of our capacity and resources.

I recently listened to a powerful interview with Justin Dowds, CEO of Compassion UK, on the Rich Martin podcast. He spoke of the need to become good at saying no as the CEO of a charity - to remain single minded and focused on their mission as Compassion UK. This isn’t to say you need to shrink your ambitions. Compassion’s mission is to eliminate child poverty, so I don’t think anyone has ever accused them of dreaming small. But you need to know what your expertise is and to play to your strengths.

Not only is this important for the success of your organisation in achieving the good you set out to, but it is also essential for your brand and communications. If you spread yourself across a hundred different needs you will be known for none of them. You could also end up with egg on your face by getting involved with something that is outside your area of expertise, or misaligned with your brand.

A classic example of a brand straying beyond their expertise was the Evian water bra. You may need to read that again. Yes, in 2005 Evian launched a bra that was designed to cool you down by being filled with water. Needless to say, it completely failed. Evian had moved into an area that was beyond its expertise and the result was ineffective, to the point of being comical.

Whatever the aim of your organisation – from product sales to raising awareness or campaigning on an issue – the principle still stands. So ask yourself every time you make a decision for your organisation, business or church: does this reflect the vision of my organisation?

Whether your temptation to stray from your focus is due to ambition or a desire to stray outside your expertise, don’t. Stay ruthlessly committed to your vision and communicate it clearly. Only then can you begin to see real change – and only then will your story be heard and remembered.

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