How to Improve Your Reliability by Learning to say “No”

How to Improve Your Reliability by Learning to say “No”

Being reliable means that others can trust you to do what you have committed to do. They expect your best efforts, your most reasoned judgment, and timely delivery.

There are people who will agree to anything because they have never learned that it is OK to say “no”. These people never gain trust, and sadly, it is not because they are truly unreliable or inconsistent, but because they take on more than they can reasonably do. Such people are “people pleasers.” Ironically, they please no one and disappoint everyone, including themselves.

Textbook Definition

In Sustained Leadership WBS, I combined these three concepts as different ways to express the same underlying element:

WBS Dictionary: While somewhat related to being responsible ( reliability pertains more to consistency in action. The sustained leader is very careful in making commitments and understands that once made, commitments MUST be met. Reliability and consistency build the trust (1.1.1) that is necessary for healthy productive relationships (3.0). Being reliable simply means that a leader comes through for their team in positive ways. While some people might be reliably undependable or simply untrustworthy, the sustained leader’s reliability and consistency is always in a positive vein.

Good Intentions Don’t Count

Some who appear unreliable have good intentions and become their own worst enemy. They have failed to have a proper system of personal organization. They continue to accept assignments or tasks without regard to what is already on their plate.

Sometimes this forces them to abandon self-care, which will ultimately make them unavailable to even those who are most dependent on them. This is not healthy for many reasons. Such stress takes an increasing toll; people become irritated and argumentative. They destroy relationships based on what “everyone else” has put on them.

Don’t Blame “Everyone Else”

The problem is not “everyone else.” It is the person who has never learned to set limits; it is the person who seeks acceptance, if not acclaim, from others; and it is you who suffers the setback. This is rooted in a lack of self-confidence and not recognizing your need to be a constant learner, seeking self-improvement day-to-day.

With a little discipline and good mentoring, it is a fixable deficiency. It is an area where many in leadership positions have ultimately failed and never become sustained leaders.

The Benefit of a Positive “No”

The costs are immeasurable. What could you have achieved if you said “no” more often, prioritized the work you have, and focused on completing it to the best of your ability? This side of the reliability coin achieves the desired objectives and is rooted in the ability to say “no.”

I highly recommend William Ury’s The Power of a Positive “No” to help you understand that everything you do should be based on your values and beliefs. When you say no because you are appealing to a higher value, the “no” is easier to say and is more readily accepted by the person whose request you declined.

Actions When You Will Miss Deadlines

What do you do when you realize that you will not keep a commitment you made? There can be many reasons and intervening events. Generally, the person relying on you does not want excuses; they want you to do what you promised.

First, give them as much notice as possible. When a scheduled deliverable is in jeopardy, allow them as much time as possible to work around it. It might even turn out that a delayed schedule works for them due to other circumstances. Always deliver bad news promptly.

Second, extend an appropriate apology. If you have never learned to do this properly, pick up a copy of Blanchard’s “The One Minute Apology” and learn how to properly say, “I’m sorry.”

Reasons Without Excuses

The sustained leader may provide reasons and circumstances; especially for those things they could not reasonably have foreseen or which are completely out of their control. The sustained leader does NOT give excuses and blame anyone else, even if that is factually true.

Your client does not care that your supplier let you down. The supplier was something you control. Yes, the supplier failed to deliver, and that is a reason. It is not an excuse for you. Accept the responsibility and do your best to make things as right as possible. All of this fits within the relationship-building bucket, and you should have worked to load up credits there in the first place.

The Power of Building Relationships Early

Problems and delays are much better solved when the other party knows that you are doing your best and will continue to do your best to make things right. If the trust is not there to begin with, it is not going to appear magically.

Such conversations are often difficult. The Sustained Leader never avoids the difficult conversation and never blames others for things for which they are responsible. Go deal with your subcontractor. That is your job. Meanwhile, make things right with your customer.

This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section Reliable/Consistent/ Delivers On Commitments.

 Buy the book here. eBook     Print

Need a keynote speaker or a leadership development program that actually works? Reach out here

Want to accelerate your leadership journey

With an extensive career in government contracting, Tom has found many examples, both good and bad, of leadership. These posts are based on his latest book, Sustained Leadership WBS, published by Morgan James. Tom is available to speak to your team on the importance of developing sustained leaders.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.