Prime Minister Tony Blair is attributed with having said: “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”

I worked with client a few weeks ago and it dawned on me how true this maxim is. During a strategic planning session, we arrived at 17 priorities that the management team felt needed to be implemented over the next quarter. In addition, we generated another 35 significant tasks and projects that the team felt they were currently working on that required their attention. That is, a total of 42 priorities! Clearly, attempting to implement such a lengthy list of objectives sets up the team and the organization they’re leading for failure.

How does a leadership team deal with this challenging and all too common situation?

Back to Mr Blair’s quote: leader’s must choose the handful of objectives that can be executed – and then say no to all other competing tasks. Successful leaders understand that they cannot be all things to all people. They find an answer to this question: what should we focus on that will give us the biggest bang for our buck?

This should translate into four to five key annual priorities that are closely linked to the overall organizational vision. It is useful to also converge on the number one annual priority. Then, the same thing happens for the next quarter. Keeping the annual priorities front and centre, the leadership team identify four to five quarterly priorities.

Once more, it is useful to also converge on the most important quarterly priority. The next step, is the design a series annual, quarterly, monthly and weekly meetings (and sometimes even daily huddles) that align the right people and resources around the priorities. Properly structured and facilitated, these meetings ensure a laser-like focus on the key deliverables.

By using ‘no’ as a strategic tool, effective leaders keep their organizations aligned behind the tasks that really matter.

Nic Tsangarakis, Principal