It Is OK to Be a “Yes Man”

There are two types of leaders in this world.

OK, there are probably a lot more than two, but for our purposes, let’s say there are two.

When someone comes forward with a new idea, a new opportunity that has some benefit to the firm or to your field of interest or to society in general, and it is something outside the norm, then there ARE two types of leaders: those who figure out why you CANNOT do something, and those who figure out why you CAN.

Which one do you want to be?

When we say — as more companies in Asia are starting to do — that we want our employees to be creative and collaborative and innovative, then we need to consider that they’re going to be, you know, creative and collaborative and innovative. So every now and then they are going to come up with ideas that are different from what you have done in the past. That is a change for a lot of traditional, hierarchical companies, but it is a natural part of growth, and if you hire people to help you grow, you should expect to change how you do business. If you want things done the same every day, you need a bureaucratic structure and you need to avoid hiring creatives, collaborative, innovative people. If that is what you think you need, then go for it, but if you have agreed that your organization demands new thinking to grow and be successful, then that is what you are likely to get.

When employees bring you something new to try, you have got a decision to make. Ideally, you have a lot of experience, know the history of your firm and the industry, understand the laws, are familiar with corporate polices, and in general, know pretty much everything you need to know (remember, we said “ideally”). Based on that knowledge and understanding, you can decide whether to proceed.

There are many leaders — too many — who will go through that knowledge and look through the policies and come up with plenty of reasons why something cannot work. Some of those reasons may be based solely on opinion, others may be in black and white in corporate manuals. Those leaders are specifically looking for a reason why something cannot be done. Maybe they are defending their turf or maybe they think they are protecting the company or maybe they’re just too lazy to do anything else. After all, if they let their employees try something new, it might increase their workload. Or, someone above them might not like it, so the easiest solution is to just say “no.”

But there are other leaders who recognize the worth of that suggestion and who will find a way to make it happen. They, too, can look through the books and find a reason they cannot do something. But they will go a step further and find a justification for why they can. Very often corporate policies may conflict, with one section allowing something and another disallowing it. The trick for this kind of leader is to actually do the research and do some thinking about how something can work…chances are that this leader will make something positive happen.

This sort of thing is common in the military. With so many regulations out there it is inevitable that there will be some overlap, with Army Regulation XXX.XX saying you cannot do something and Army Regulation YYY.YY providing an opportunity. The military is a bureaucracy, of course, at least in peacetime, and when you are controlling hundreds of thousands of people and using taxpayer money, perhaps you should err on the side of caution.

But a business cannot afford that, because if you say “no,” chances are one of your competitors is saying “yes,” and they will not just steal your customers, they may just steal your employee, too. The best employees (the kind that, hopefully, you have hired) want to be in an environment where they can contribute to the organization, and if you will not let them, someone else may give them that chance. Sure, maybe the answer has to be “no,” but do not go into it with that as your goal. See if it is possible to say “yes” before turning someone down.

None of this is meant to suggest you should say “yes” to stupid ideas, or to something illegal. But it IS meant to suggest you should not say “no” simply because of some arbitrary rule that might be contradicted by something else. If an idea sounds worthwhile, pursue it, see if you can make it happen. This is one time when being a “yes man” is OK.