A couple of weeks ago I was asked to join the board of a charitable trust. It was a fascinating opportunity, combining business and culture. The initial e-mail I received was persuasive, challenging and flattering in just the right proportions. I was exactly the person they were looking for. Joining the board would be interesting, rewarding – and above all I’d be helping to create jobs in North Yorkshire.
They were right. I was the right person. It would be both challenging and rewarding. And if you can help to create jobs in the current economic climate then the knighthood is surely in the post.
So I said no.
Politely, but firmly, I declined the offer. I would have really enjoyed being a member of that board. It was flattering to be asked. But I simply had to say ‘no.’
Why? Two reasons.
First of all I’ve been conscious for a while that I’ve been spreading myself too thinly. As the saying goes, ‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.’ And the main thing for me is running The Alternative Board in York.
There’s another saying, beloved of my accountant friends: ‘Turnover is vanity; profit is sanity.’ And saying ‘yes’ to everything is a lot like that. Too many people think, “I’m busy, I’m a member of this, I’m going to that meeting. Therefore I must be doing well.”
Unfortunately, that’s the ‘turnover’ argument. It’s not the activity that counts – it’s the results you produce. Meetings are vanity; results are sanity.
You simply cannot perform at your best if you’re doing too many things. Yes, it may be flattering if you’re asked to be a school governor. And I genuinely accept that you may well have something valuable to contribute – but there are only so many things you can think about, and right now the current economic climate is giving everyone running a business more than enough to think about.
The second reason I said ‘no’ was simple. I have a family, and I have clients. And if you have either of those, then you’ve a moral obligation to give of your best. You can’t do that if you’re exhausted from too many meetings or you’re worrying about the state of the school roof.
In a previous life a client of mine had a saying: “You want 100% of my money: I want 100% of your attention.” What he meant was that we expected him to pay his invoice in full. Obviously. By the same token he expected calls to be answered promptly, the sales executive (a fresh-faced young lad called Reid) to turn up on time, and for us never to deliver anything less than our very best service.
And I think he had a point.
Clients and customers are entitled to your absolute best. Irrespective of how long you’ve dealt with them and irrespective of how much they’re spending. To use another well-worn cliché: ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough.
So it doesn’t matter how wonderful and talented you are, and how much you could contribute to the world; make 2012 the year when you get into the habit of saying ‘no.’ By all means have outside interests (remember the Effective Networks blog?) but choose them carefully. Good causes are great; but your most important good causes – by a long, long way – are your family and your business.