Building influence and credibility means not always having to say “Yes.” Being too eager to please can be bad for your reputation–and your career.

It may sound counterintuitive, so to illustrate, consider these examples. While interviewing a CEO about one of his high potential executives I will be coaching, he said, “When you work with him, maybe you could modify his need to please me all the time. He’ll often nod his head and quickly agree to whatever I’m suggesting. I don’t want to be the only guy in the room doing the thinking. I want my team to be assertive about their own opinions. I want them pushing back on me about why something may not work, or offering their own ideas.”

Here’s another example. In the early years of building my business, I thought I had to accept whatever work I could, to pay my bills and keep my fledgling business in flight. If a client wanted solution A, I gave them solution A. They were happy and my business began to grow. The problem was that sometimes I felt that solution B would have been a better long-term solution. It might have cost them a little more, though, so I wasn’t confident in asking for that business.

That was twenty years ago. Fortunately, as I gained confidence in my ability to add value, I learned that saying “no” to work that didn’t suit my specialty was the way to create capacity for the right work. And solving the right problem with the right solution was the way to create business growth.

So how about your own credibility and influence? Here are some thoughts to consider:

  • Don’t agree to do a task unless you are absolutely certain you will follow through. Overpromising and under-delivering is a credibility killer. The phone call you promised to make, or the data you promised to send, may have fallen off your to-do list, but they won’t fade from the other person’s memory.
  • Learn the fine art of pushing back tactfully. For example, “I understand the outcome you’re shooting for. Are you open to some other ways to get there?” Or, “I see where you’re going with this idea, but I’m concerned about a couple of potential barriers we could run into…” In both examples, affirming the other person’s idea before posing alternatives is a good way to offer opposing views to someone in power. Position yourself as someone who is thinking through their idea with them.
  • Help the person who is delegating to think through projects on the front end–don’t just be a pair of hands. Executives are busy people and they will often delegate a project without completely thinking it through. Ask questions such as, “If this project is successful, what will it look like when it’s finished?”, “Who will be impacted by this (and who should I involve)?” or, “What concerns you about this project–how are you/others at risk if it isn’t successful?” Questions such as these add value because they will inevitably shape and clarify the steps required for the best outcome. Often, I have found that the original solution morphs into a better solution.
  • Say “no,” but explain why. This is an option that should be rarely chosen, so make it count. In my prior corporate life, I was asked to head a task force to create a “company-wide recognition program.” After diligently researching many available options, the group concluded that formal, company-wide programs had limited value and short life-spans. The task force had been conceived to create more appreciation and job satisfaction for employees. We kept coming back to the ideas that most job satisfaction came from things like personal recognition from their boss/team and empowerment to have some control and influence over their own work. When the group was asked to present its findings, we opened our presentation with, “We recommend against creating a company-wide program and here are the reasons…” We recommended a solution that would get the desired results. We were a little nervous, but in the end, our “personal stock value” went up.


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