Great Leaders Say “Yes!”

The Word Yes

Making a small shift in how you communicate with others can yield big results. A simple change from “no” to “yes, and…” will reframe your conversations in a positive light and open up new possibilities.

Today’s post is by Chris Dyer, author of The Power of Company Culture (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Back in 2008-2009, when we were all struggling with the great recession of our age, I was also struggling with my company culture. Fewer orders, and a dismal economic outlook had forced me to reflect on every part of my business. Along the way I made some important discoveries about my services, and it began my fascination with company culture. Quickly I discovered some difficult truths. Somehow, I became a bottleneck to the entire company, and had earned a reputation for saying “No.” Nothing kills innovation and enthusiasm faster!

After learning how to stop saying “No,” and making some important changes to my company’s culture, we began to see incredible results. Since “Positive Revolution,” PeopleG2 has been twice named to the Inc 5000 list of fastest growing companies, and received more accolades for growth and for the best places to work than I can even keep track of. Although I am proud of these accomplishments, what I want you to know is how many awards and recognitions we had prior to this change. Zero. None. Not a single highlight from any outside group. We were a good company, and treated our employees well. But, we were far from great. Very far!

So I embarked on a journey to radically change my company. I was determined to figure it out, or blow it all up. As I devoured business books, blog posts, and every bit of thought leadership I could digest, a clear answer on how to change my ways failed to appear. Before I started to lose hope, I found my inspiration and all the answers in the most unlikely of places – improvisational comedy. If this term is not immediately familiar to you, think of the TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” To my surprise, it is a regular practice to say “Yes” inside of an active routine to ensure that the momentum continues. It allows one comedian to build on what their fellow comic has thrown their way. If your improv partner said they just handed you a bomb, while simultaneously acting this out, you would immediately pretend you were holding the bomb and adjust your actions to continue that story, ideally building on to create another new story. Nothing could be worse in that comedic scenario then refusing what was just suggested. The mood would drop, the actors on stage would be unsure what to do next, and the audience would not be laughing. The best course of action is to say “Yes, and…” then work to the next logical comedic action. This is a cornerstone of improv comedy, and as I realized, unfortunately the exact opposite of what we do in our daily business work.

After learning about this concept, I found out that Jim Carrey had done a movie titled “Yes Man” in 2008. Here Carrey interpreted this idea himself, and hilariously explored what would happen when a person had to say “Yes,” to everything. If you ever watch the movie, you will discover that saying “Yes!” opened doors to things he never thought possible, made him far happier and more successful, but taught him that he needed well-constructed strategies, and the right approach to be successful. It is the actual approach that I find to be the most applicable and helpful to leaders in any organization. If you have decided to change, here is how you can start saying “Yes” to everything!

Yes, and…  

The first tool in your new positive outlook is the “Yes, and…” response. Imagine an employee asking you for a raise. Most leaders say “No,” defer, or give in to something they regret later. Here, we can say “Yes, and…” as a way to give the employee further instructions, criteria, or processes to achieve that raise. Instead of telling an employee “No,” because you are not meeting your goals, and you need to work harder,” imagine a “Yes, and…” response. “Yes, and we can make that happen once you meet your goals.” Actually giving the raise is more complicated and detailed than this, but the example seems to best demonstrate how we can change our response to a difficult question. Imagine how much better your company might work, and how different your relationship with your team may look if everyone knew what it took to get a raise. The answer is always, “Yes, and here is what you need to do to get there.” In most companies, a majority of the staff either have no idea when or how that raise might be achieved, or they simply get some nominal amount added to their check based on an annual plan.

Yes, but…

The next tool to establish your positive outlook is not quite as good as “Yes, and…,” but often is an easier place to start. Returning to that employee who wants a raise, you might respond with this approach. “Yes, but we need to set a clear path on how you can reach your goals.” Or, “Yes, but that review won’t happen until your goals are met.”

Focus your Yes

Right about now is when most people ask me about the extreme examples. What about something illegal? Either response works! We can still say “Yes!” if you really want to be positive. For example, “Will you help me rob a bank?” “Yes, but only when it is legal to do so.” This is extreme and obviously outside the bounds of normal conversation. The advice here is to think about this practice of saying “Yes,” in your core interactions with employees, family, and friends. You are not Jim Carrey stuck in a movie where you can never say “No.” It is easy to claim that saying “Yes” to everything is impossible, and then proceed to say “No” all the time. Do your best to say “Yes” in designated parts of your life, especially in the workplace. Dive in, or gently ease your way in with this skill. Don’t worry about the extremes.

The simple psychology of answering with a “Yes” is so powerful that it removes confrontation and inserts appreciation and positivity into any situation. This is also the first step to becoming a positive and more transparent leader. Saying “Yes” forces us to explain, provide context, and engage in dialogue. Saying “No” just ends the conversation. Try it for the next hour, the rest of the day, all week, or hopefully for the rest of your life. It also works like magic when dealing with teenagers!

The Power of Company CultureChris Dyer is the author of The Power of Company Culture: How Any Business Can Build a Culture That Improves Productivity, Performance and Profits (CLICK HERE to get your copy). He is the Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a background check and intelligence firm based in California. He is the host of TalentTalk on OC Talk Radio and iHeartRadio, an in-demand speaker on company culture, remote workforces, and employee engagement, and a frequent contributor to Forbes, Inc.,, the Society for Human Resource Management, and many other outlets. For more information, please visit

Did you enjoy this post? If so, I highly encourage you to take about 30 seconds to become a regular subscriber to this blog. It’s free, fun, practical, and only a few emails a week (I promise!). SIGN UP HERE to get the thoughtLEADERS blog conveniently delivered right to your inbox!

Photo: Yes by andeecollard

Leave a Reply

  • ©Copyright thoughtLEADERS, LLC. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast in whole or in part without the EXPRESS WRITTEN CONSENT OF thoughtLEADERS, LLC. Content may not be republished, reproduced or distributed in whole or in part without the proper attribution of the work and disclosure of its source including a direct link back to the original content. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content nor can you modify the content in any way. However, you may download material from this website for your personal, noncommercial use only. Links to websites other than those owned by thoughtLEADERS, LLC are offered as a service to readers. thoughtLEADERS, LLC was not involved in their production and is not responsible for their content.

    thoughtLEADERS, LLC has worked to ensure the accuracy of the information included herein. thoughtLEADERS, LLC is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services beyond training, coaching, and consulting. Its reports or articles should not be construed as professional advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. thoughtLEADERS, LLC is not responsible for any claims or losses that may arise from any errors or omissions in our reports or reliance upon any recommendation or advice provided by thoughtLEADERS, LLC.

    thoughtLEADERS, LLC is committed to protecting your privacy. You can read our privacy policy by clicking here.