'No' is sometimes the best answer
Some of the worst employees a manager will ever deal with have a vocabulary problem. "No" and "maybe" don't seem to be in their dictionary. Who are they? The "Yes" people - those who answer "How high?" every time the boss says "Jump!"
At first glance, they might seem like a manager's dream employee - someone who doesn't give you a hard time every time you make a request, who appears to treat your every wish as a command. Someone who never has a different - or better - idea. But is this what you really want?
Ineffective leaders surround themselves with the familiar, the comfortable - and people who think exactly like they do. In other words, Yes people. These employees tell the boss whatever he wants to hear and withhold any negative information. Like a horse with blinders on, the manager runs the race without any idea whether she is going in the right direction or if there are obstacles in the way.
The best leaders seek out those who think differently, and they encourage creativity and innovation in their employees. If everyone agrees with you all the time due to fear or constant rejection, how will you hear any new ideas? If you only have Yes people around you, you can't improve.
Another problem with rewarding Yes people is they stifle everyone else in the group from contributing his or her honest opinions. Bright and talented employees start believing that the only way to get ahead is to also become a Yes person and performance is secondary. They will become reluctant to voice their knowledge and point of view, and won't bother to bring up any suggestions that don't perfectly agree with the boss's.
I'm a firm believer in "Managing by Walking Around," and get some of my best advice out on the factory floor talking to people. They know how things could be improved far better than I do, and most of them will tell it like it is.
Sometimes you need to draw out an employee's candid opinion about an issue until you build trust. Try saying, "How do you think we should proceed? I know you have a lot of experience in this area and are close to what customers are thinking." Reassure employees that there are no negative consequences for holding an opinion that is very different from yours.
Your main task as a leader is to establish a company culture where dissent is encouraged and ideas can be challenged. This is the only way to ensure inventiveness, new thinking and the quickest path to success. Use caution when you accuse someone of not being a team player just because they don't happen to agree with you.
And while you're at it, ask yourself how you operate with your own upper management or board of directors. If you are told to do something that you know will head the company in the wrong direction or if you have a better idea, do you just go with the flow by keeping your thoughts to yourself? Sure, it's disheartening to see Yes people get promoted and receive preferential treatment, but is that really the best way to operate?
There's nothing wrong with voicing your opinion and having a professional discussion when there's a decision to be made. When issues are talked about openly and honestly with the best interests of the company in mind, you're bound to come up with a great solution. And if you present your ideas in a pleasant, non-threatening manner, upper management should be more than willing to hear what you have to say. But once the boss makes a decision, then it's time to get on board and support it without further dissent.
The ability to debate in a positive, respectful way will help you in a variety of business as well as social situations. You will encounter a lot of people in life who hold different opinions from your own, and it won't just be in the workplace. So the more you practice not going along with the crowd, the easier it will become.
The world will always be filled with Yes people, but it's the smart managers who can admit they don't know it all and have the self-confidence to listen to their employees' ideas.
Mackay's Moral: Say "no" to the Yes People and say "yes" to the No people.