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Why Saying “No” is Critical to Success

I turned down a couple engagements in the past few weeks that did not align with my business model and primary area of focus. Of course, it is not easy saying ‘No’ to an opportunity when you are building a company.

However, I know from working inside companies for decades and trying to build my own company that saying ‘No’ is essential to success.

The companies I worked at that had a clear and thought out strategy would say ‘No’ to many engagements to stay focused on executing the core strategy. On the other hand, companies I’ve worked at that did not succeed or failed to reach their potential always said ‘Yes’ and chased every opportunity that knocked on the front door.

That inability or reluctance to say ‘No’ is one of the reasons startups and early stage companies fail . . . I refer to it as the ‘I can’t say no’ pitfall.

On this point, I remember Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warrant Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

From my perspective, here is what saying “No” represents and why it is so critical to success:

  1. ‘No’ means you clearly defined what is in the “Yes’ bucket otherwise you are not comfortable responding ‘No.’
  2. ‘No’ means you believe in your go-to-market strategy and business model and this should be applauded.
  3. ‘No’ represents discipline and that is a key attribute of success.
  4. ‘No’ means neither you or your employees will waste valuable time chasing deals that do not make business sense and instead laser focus on executing the core strategy and scaling the business.
  5. ‘No” requires confidence and all the great leaders at successful companies have at least one thing in common . . . they are confident – if not conceited – in what they are building and how they are building it.

In reminding myself of the context in which Buffett made his statement, I came across the following article in which successful leaders and advisors were asked if they agree with Buffett.

What about you? Do you agree with Buffett? Can you recall a situation where you walked away from a deal? Do you remember continually changing ‘Who’ and ‘What’ your business stood for in an attempt to win any deal?

Tell me about your experiences and always feel free to drop me an email at: Also, download our free eBook at on how to avoid common growth roadblocks .