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?

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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