A senior leader was giving advice to a new supervisor who was struggling with prioritization. The manager wondered how he could get everything accomplished in a reasonable timeframe – responding to emails, returning phone calls, and attending to all the demands on his time.

“You can’t,” was the advice that was given. “I walk into the office every day and wonder ‘Who will I disappoint today?’” The voice of experience knew that her priorities would not allow her to respond to everyone in as timely of a manner as they hoped. By delaying some replies or by saying no to some requests, it allowed her to remain strategically focused on what was important. She set the priorities, not the urgent pings of email, the ringing of the phone or even people in her doorway.

Author Seth Godin asks the same question in a broader context: “Whom shall we disappoint?” as people work to create something new. That which does not disappoint someone is probably too watered down and compromised to be truly bold or creative. It’s a great question to ask when you are making decisions on new initiatives.

Those who are most successful are the ones who realize that saying no is a powerful tool. You can’t thrive by being everything for everyone. If you’re not disappointing someone else, you’re thwarting your own priorities.

Who will you disappoint today?

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