Opinion: How the power of ‘no’ can get you exactly what you want

In the business world, the word “no” holds significant power and serves as a crucial aspect of leadership and entrepreneurship. While it may be difficult to utter this simple two-letter word, mastering the practice of doing so takes practice and perseverance. Start with small steps if necessary, and remind yourself that each time you confidently say “no,” you remove a potential obstacle on your journey towards success.

The clearest definition of success I’ve ever heard came from a conversation I had with entrepreneur and author Darren Hardy: “Success is doing what you want to do, when you want to do it, where you want to do it, with whom you want to do it, and how you want to do it.” That’s the type of freedom every entrepreneur strives for. But it doesn’t come easy or fast.

When I heard success described in this way, it hit home. I realized I had the power to give myself permission to do what I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted, and with people I wanted to be involved with. If something doesn’t check all those boxes, I’m out. Everyone should live their lives this way, yet most people won’t get to a place where they believe they can. 

At my age, with 50-plus years of experience as an entrepreneur and all that I’ve accomplished in life, I now live by this definition of success. In fact, I’ve made it my mantra. I have wealth, money and prestige. I have friends, businesses and hobbies. You could say my life is satisfying and full. When I’m considering whether to give up an hour of my time for someone, the choice comes down to those factors. Am I willing to give up 60 minutes of my life for whatever their cause might be? 

Sometimes yes, but mostly no

Today, I’m selective. I say yes to only a few requests. Saying no preserves your value and resources. You can spend all your time chasing the monkey — that next bright, shiny thing — or you can be hyper-focused on the one or two things that are important to you and your business. It’s easy to run after the next shiny thing, but in the process, most people end up destroying their companies. 

Focus on where you’re going to get the best results. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said it brilliantly: “[Focus] comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

If you’re constantly jumping from one shiny thing to another, focusing on the flavor of the day, you will inevitably lose. That shiny thing is nothing more than a distraction. 

Be selective, realistic, and honor your priorities.

According to Warren Buffett, one of the most successful businessmen and investors of all time, how often you say no can determine your level of success. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything,” Buffett said.

Know this: You can have anything, but you can’t have everything. So be selective, realistic, and honor your priorities. Consider the various roles you play — spouse, parent, friend, sibling, boss, employee, volunteer, and more. Balancing these responsibilities can fragment your time, which emphasizes the importance of mastering the art of saying no.

The best leaders in business understand the power of saying no. You can’t do everything and expect to do it well, so prioritize these areas of your life and consider the choices you’ll have to make to fulfill your goals and live your calling. 

Failure is often just the beginning for the most successful entrepreneurs.

According to U.S. government data, 50% of small businesses fail within the first five years and 90% of startups fail within 10 years. While this may not be very encouraging when you’re venturing out on your own, it’s important to remember that failure isn’t always the end of the story for an entrepreneur. On the other hand, failure is often just the beginning for the most successful entrepreneurs.

The College of Hard Knocks taught me that persistence is incredibly important in any endeavor. Throughout the years I have seen my share of challenges and I’ve survived them all. If I can do that, you most certainly can, too. Fortunately, I was never deterred by what other people thought. I’m the kind of man who isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and do whatever it takes to create his own success. 

My critics didn’t scare me any more than hard work did. No job was beneath me, especially in the early years. I spent plenty of long nights stuffing envelopes, polishing presentations, and hand-folding thousands of flyers. I look back at those grassroots beginnings and smile at the memory of my fearlessness and diligence, especially in the face of the many challenges that came my way. 

Even so, I knew we were onto an industry-disrupting idea. There will always come a time when radical ideas, changing technology, or necessary shifts in strategy have the potential to disrupt. This is true in every industry., Alphabet’s Google, Meta Platforms, Uber Technologies, and Tesla are all great examples of companies that changed how we shop, learn, communicate, and drive. It wasn’t easy for these companies and their founders; there were many challenges over the years. When you’ve been an entrepreneur as long as I have, you learn that business is full of cycles. 

Especially real estate. Some years are up, others are down. The good and the great among us are separated by how we navigate the lean years — and believe me, there were many times when I didn’t know how we would make payroll, let alone how I would put food on the table for my own family. 

Fifty-one years later, though, RE/MAX Holdings

has more than 140,000 agents and 9,000 offices in 110 countries worldwide. There isn’t a lot in this world that makes me happier than having fun with my friends and colleagues — except, perhaps, knowing that we’ve somehow impacted their lives.

Dave Liniger is the co-founder of RE/MAX, the Denver-based global real estate franchise and author of “The Perfect 10 :10 Leadership Principles to Achieve True Independence, Extreme Wealth, and Huge Success.” (Forefront Books, 2024).

More: 9 stock tips hiding in Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire shareholders

Also read: How much money do you need to buy a $400,000 house with a 7% mortgage rate?

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