Frank and George Black are two outstanding lawyers in Morris, Illinois. Years ago, they gave me a book of quotes written by their lawyer father, August Black. “My Briefs on Life” reminds me of another book, “The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain.”
Both books entice readers to reflect on the really important things in life and are replete with wisdom.
One of the quotes is, “The first ten commandments of parents: 1 thru X – No!”
I once was listening to an interview with a psychiatrist when he was asked when do you start telling your children no? His answer was, “As soon as possible.” The rationale behind his answer was that life is a series of “no’s.” I would like to drive this certain car, but the answer is “no” because I can’t afford it. The same for the house I may want, the job I would like, the vacation I want to take. Often the answer is “no” as we go through life to many of the things we want, therefore the psychiatrist felt that the sooner we hear no, the more mentally healthy we become.
As I look back on the lives of my five children, I think their hearing “no” led them to realize that when you want something, you have to work for it. Whether it was success in athletics or school, or if it was for some material thing they desired, they realized they had to work for it. They came to learn that nothing is given to you; you have to earn what you get.
Our children are doing very well today in their chosen professions and as parents. I do believe that one of the reasons for their success is that early on they developed good work habits in athletics, school, and the jobs they had in their teens. Hearing “no” didn’t hurt them; it motivated them.
When Bob Knight was coaching at Indiana, he felt one of his main jobs was to teach his players to say “no.” Indiana basketball, like Texas football, is as much a religion as it is a sport, so the athletes are often asked to give of their time to various events. Given the amount of time their academics and their basketball took, Coach Knight wanted them to understand it was okay to say “no.”
Gordie Gillespie took the then College, now University, of St. Francis from 45 student-athletes when he arrived in 1976 to 370 during his first 19 years there. Because our teams gave partial scholarships during these years, the Athletic Department substantially enhanced our college financially. Many at the college thought our president, Dr. Jack Orr, gave us everything we asked for. This was not the case at all. Jack’s responsibility was the financial stability of the entire college and he often had to and did tell us “no.”
Leaders, possibly more often than not, have to say “no.” What criteria lead to “no”? I think three.
- Is what is requested part of our mission? Is it a fit for who we are?
- Secondly, can we afford it?
- And finally, does it fit our values? I can recall reading that when you know your values, decisions are easier to make.
Saying “no” is not easy but often necessary…and sometimes it can motivate the recipient to work harder.