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Reward the Five "No" Behaviors

My book NOT DOING LIST helps leaders focus and use their #168hours more productively. This blog post is about rewarding the #NDL behaviors we teach in the book. It's year-end performance review season. Everyone is filling out their self-review and/or reviewing their team. It has been a rough year for a lot of staff. At the same time, a lot of staff have stepped up in new and different ways. Calibrating relative performance is tough in a crisis year like 2020. We can be tempted to reward and promote the "do it all" employees in these high-pressure situations. Those who worked late and took on more and more when things got tough. But, be careful. That behavior can also lead to burnout and erode focus on key priorities. Rewarding that behavior may not always set us up for long-term success.

Ask yourself these two questions as you evaluate your staff:

  • Who was able to "focus" and get the hard important things done in the face of rapid change, uncertainty, noise, and shifting needs? Not hours worked, HARD things done.

  • Who was able to say "No" to low-value things during business critical moments this year?

At the end of the day, the ability to stay focused on the right things is what allowed your team and organization to pivot during COVID-19. Reward that leadership. Not those who ran around and just "worked" all day and night.

As you assess your team, discuss the Five "No" Behaviors below. These are the building blocks that allow staff to get more of the harder, important things done:

Five "No" Behaviors

  1. Shuts out distractions (social, mobile, peers, pings, and requests) and stays focused on mission critical work everyday.

  2. Removes themselves from low-value projects, meetings, and requests and uses that time for strategically important work.

  3. Allocates their time and energy like an executive would allocate a limited set of budget dollars.

  4. Does not add new ideas, projects, or tasks to their plate without also removing lower value ones that should be eliminated.

  5. Spends more days pushing forward against important tasks, than being pulled by others in new and different directions.

We can't assess these behaviors in a vacuum. They are, of course, part of a larger leadership profile and performance story from 2020. However, they are at the core of what it means to stay focused and do the hard things #NDL. I encourage you to discuss, praise, reward, and celebrate these behaviors across your team this year.

If you’re writing your own performance review, tell your boss how you focused and got the hard things done during 2020. It will help them tell an even stronger story about your impact.

Send this blog to your leadership team as a reminder to consider the Five "No" Behaviors.

If you are your own boss, assess how well you exhibited these behaviors.

If your staff need help staying focused and saying "No", get them signed up for my Sunday email @


“Pay attention to what you recognize and celebrate in your organization, because that is what you’re going to get. How clear is their CEO in what he or she actually wants? The clearest way to communicate is through what you recognize and celebrate.” - Frank Blake, former Home Depot CEO who turned the company around from 2007 to 2014. Featured on How Leaders Lead, a podcast by David Novak

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