Leaders Say No. Will You?

2020 Sucked!  It brought a lot of suffering on a lot of levels and to too many people. And the suffering will continue, especially in the weeks upon us, post holiday travel. 

2020 also awakened us. “Normal” wasn’t. And still isn’t. 

Truth is, it’s easier to change when things aren’t normal. Anyone who has been hospitalized, fired, dumped, outsourced, married (:- or otherwise jolted will begin to see that change is necessary, but also that change is possible and change can bring new life. But you gotta say, “no” to what isn’t here, isn’t working, and maybe wish you had.  That’s loss. That’s grief.  But then you can see, “well not everything was working.” Habits and lousy accommodations crept into life.  Leading always, always involves healthy adaptation and saying no in order to say yes.  As economist Paul Romer famously wrote in 2004, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Crises lead us to adapt.  Crisis, or no crisis, a new year is also a terrible thing to waste. But it is a great time to put somethings in the waste! Say no to what’s outmoded, obsolete, tired, not cost-beneficial, boring, or just settling. Aim for growth, for value and values. 

  • Any good gardener knows you have to prune, so as to force nutrients into what’s healthy. 
  • Any good business manager knows you have to say no to things you aren’t great at to put energy and resources into what you are are good at. 
  • Any good artist knows that to create, you have to eliminate . . . distractions, downers, and work that wasn’t right or just wasn’t ready.

It’s not easy to say no.  But if in 2021, you want to add new growth, get rid of stuff that’s stunted, not producing, or just no damn fun. Make some room in your mind, your business, your garden, your closet, your relationships for some wonderful things to grow in the way they assuredly will, if you

Lead with your best self! 

  • Dear Dan,
    Thank you so much for this message. To urge us to leave what’s worn out and obsolete at the door of 2020 and move in a valued direction towards that which enriches the soul! You’ve really left an impact, Dan, more than you can imagine. Thank you and I wish for you a growthful new year.
    Rae (briefly your Leadership student at summer school ’17)

  • Dear Dan,
    A message to free ourselves of the burdens of unimportant stuff: physical and mental so that the clarity of new ideas
    and new journeys into the known and unknown have the freedom to take root in 2021 and forever.

  • Congratulations to your wife!!!!
    I am the aunt to The Pricopio’s. Met you in the past at their house.

  • I learned in nursing school when working with patients who had dementia that, “a clean space is a clean mind.” I think this messages directly applies. Clear out the old! See the clean, clear path forward! Really like the reminder as well as a manager it is ok to say no to what you don’t do well.”

    Thanks for the message

  • I like just about all of these emails, but this one was particularly helpful. The last sentence about ridding oneself of what isn’t working is particularly relevant, not easy though. Old habits are hard to break. A Christmas gift to myself was, “How Be Bullish and Not Bullied, The Need to Say No: The importance of setting boundaries in love, life and your world.” by Jill Brooke. Haven’t started reading it yet.

  • This is so true! During the pandemic, I found peace in that I was not as busy as normal; took a leadership role at home and began to work out, eat right, and set a good example for the family. I lost 45 pounds and now the individual work outs are open, my son and I go to work out together. He is getting into some healthy habits to carry with him throughout his life so he won’t have weight struggles like I have. Now if we can get my husband and other son on board, we will be all set!

  • Happy Birthday Dan! I enjoy reading your columns and hopefully will be able to weed out the unproductive parts of life this year!

  • Thanks Dan! The points you are making work on a few levels of analysis – individual as well as organizational. I witness many of my client leaders and their organizations in a “stuck” mode – lamenting the loss of the “normal” which they need to let go of so they can get creative and innovate towards a new way of being. Leaders that acknowledge this loss but push a message of curiosity and experimentation appear best positioned to find opportunity and craft a new “normal”.

  • Refreshing suggestions and always providing a candid perspective on self-improvement! Thanks Dan for your continued leadership and help! Am still enjoying your input, for so many years!

  • Dan,

    Such great points thank you! 2021 will require “more room” as you say. Thanks for your words and inspiration.

    Be safe and be well!



  • Daniel, I have been reading your columns since your days as the First Gentleman of Michigan. You have inspired and encouraged and certainly challenged. When I read your wife was being considered for the position of Secretary of Energy in the incoming Biden Administration, I was thrilled for you both. Knowing your wife and your family through your columns, President-elect Biden has chosen well. God bless you and keep you and make his face shine on your entire family. Luc

    • Luc,
      Thanks for these kind words. Jen is – and many are, despite the massive misconceptions to the contrary – a public SERVANT. I appreciate your kind response and the many other words of encouragement here.
      Best in 2021,

  • I’ve been reading “you” since you were first husband here in MI. I have learned to appreciate you and Jennifer through you. I was thrilled when I heard she’d been nominated. Please be safe. I anxiously anticipate how YOU will grow in this new assignment.

  • Dan, I have been reading you it seems like forever, and I will never forget our first meeting and our long talks at ARM. I wish you and Jennifer all the best and I so welcome you and Jennifer to Washington. YES!

    • Thanks, Jeanette. Your reference to “you” reminds me that we should have a grammatical invention of You to denote a plural you, and perhaps a they for those who choose it as a pronoun and a They when it refers to a plural. May the next day bring on healing!

  • Hi Dan! Your words are powerful and I believe place you at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. Congratulations on achieving “self-actualization!” 🙂 Please pass on my heartfelt congratulation to Jennifer! As always, I wish both of you and family all the best. ~ Jim “The Shark”

  • I do not know when I started reading your messages, but then it was called Reading for Leading. Energy defines Jen both as something she knows about, and something she has much of. To sell clean energy she could encourage the establishment of clean energy jobs, where old energy jobs are declining, like West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania. Identity is critical to understanding ourselves, and others. Not only does knowing our own strands within your identity, but those of others as sources of their strengths. They may be a third of fourth generation coal miner, but they have other facets in their lives, so many other things that make them who they are. I like hearing gay people saying that being gay does not define their lives, it is only one part of them, and so that is true for all of us, no one thing defines us.

  • Loved your article on identity, Dan. I think you could write more articles about the point you made about our multiple identities – which often reinforce each other and sometimes clash. And at some points of our lives, certain facets are front and center and at other points, they recede. We’re so excited about the next chapter of Your lives and look forward to learning the insights you gain from this new experience.

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