Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly,
and they will show themselves great.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Captain John Butterworth was Chairman of the Political Science Department at the Naval Academy. He was a phenomenal, high-energy leader who received 21 air medals plus the Distinguished Flying Cross, and was rumored to have a "secret life." Fluent in Farsi and having served as Naval Attache in Iran, he was noticeably absent during the 1980 Iranian hostage rescue attempt. When he returned, his white hair was dyed jet black. Many years later, it was confirmed that he was a member of the Delta Force for the rescue attempt.
I remember going to Captain Butterfield with a proposal when I attended the Academy. He responded, "Yes, absolutely do it!" and then said, "I always try to figure out how to say 'Yes'!"
Later in life, I realized that this was a secret of Captain Butterfield's success. Far too many leaders default to an answer of "No". They focus on all the potential downsides rather than the potential positives. New ideas take effort, money, and time, all of which are often in short supply. The easiest answer is "No."
Reward systems typically favor a negative response. If a project is never approved, who will know if it would have been successful? But, if it is approved and fails, everyone will point fingers at the approving leader. Because of this, some leaders believe every "Yes" answer is high risk, and thus offer them very sparingly.
Surpassing leaders, on the other hand, perceive high value in every "Yes", and potential failure in every "No". Affirmative answers encourage new ideas and generate energy that often provides the time, money and resources to do the project. The best people gravitate toward leaders who try to find a way to say "Yes," and those people are the ones most likely to ensure a project is successful. With each success, more ideas flow, along with more great people and resources, and a greater probability of more successes.
I'm so glad for the many "yes" answers I have given in my career. One example is Epcot's Party for the Senses. Epcot hosts the International Food and Wine Festival for 45 days in the fall. It is the world's largest and longest food and wine festival, amazingly held in a Disney theme park. Post 9/11, there were serious questions about whether the Festival would continue and significant pressure to reduce the number of events during the Festival.
My team came to me with the idea of having a party during each Saturday night of the Festival. The party would have food stations with celebrity and Disney chefs, and wine stations featuring wineries that came to the Festival. The party would have a separate admission price on top of the cost for admission to Epcot. It was a great idea, but also risky, since we had no idea how many people would be willing to pay. The easy and safe answer would be to just say "No." But, remembering Captain Butterfield, I told the team to "Go for it!" and fought for the resources to make it happen. This unleashed amazing energy and creativity, and the Party for the Senses ultimately ended up with over 20 food stations, 50 wines, Cirque du Soleil entertainment and a reputation as the finest food and wine event in the world.
As you consider your leadership, do you tend to say, "Yes" to new ideas, and challenge yourself and your team to make them happen? Take an affirmative approach, and watch your leadership soar.
• Figure out how to say, "Yes" to new ideas and proposals.
• Ensure your reward systems affirm taking risks, and don't just punish failures.
• Recognize that "Yes" answers can lead to the resources necessary to accomplish a project.
An exciting, fun, profitable workplace and life