Leaning In: When You're Asked...Say Yes

There's a story, dear readers, that I've wanted to tell for quite a while. Years, in fact - but to respect the people involved, I purposely let time go by. Well, enough of that. It's time to tell.

So sit back and join me while I tell you the true story of the woman who said, "No."

I had been approached by a friend who wanted to extend his business to include a new niche service opportunity he realized was just begging to be developed.

It was an intriguing idea and made a lot of sense for the population he wanted to serve. Most importantly, it had legs. It was one of those businesses that wouldn't be small for long - because while it would start within the niche he knew, the service was ubiquitous enough to cross industries.

An excellent idea all around...and he even had the "perfect" person in mind to lead it: a woman who worked for him that he was concerned was being underutilized and might leave unless offered a better opportunity.

So, he and I went to work designing the business, identifying all the options and opportunities..."doing the necessary" as he would say. (He's British). And all the time, he kept saying, "Kelly will love this! It's perfect for her!"

Now, on the one hand, having met Kelly, I could see why he was so excited about the prospect of her running the business. On the other, I continued to warn him that she might say, "No."

"How could she? This is the opportunity of a lifetime! She'll see it and go for it. I know her."

Well, dear readers, I knew her too - and I knew something that he wasn't willing to admit could be a factor in her decision-making: She was female. Moreover, she was relatively young (about 30), married and she, too, was British.

You're thinking: I get the female, young and married part. I've read Lean In. I know about how women put their gender, husband and existent or non-existent children ahead of their careers. But what's with the British bit?

That's a whole different problem - because, as I've been told too often by too many young, degreed, capable and smart British women, the job they most expect (because it's what's most often offered) is as a "PA or shop girl."

As a result, they've become used to expecting - and taking - the low road in their careers...no matter how qualified they are.

I told our business visionary this - but he remained convinced. Kelly would say, "Yes."

She didn't. She said, "No."

Not immediately, mind you. At the end of the meeting during which he presented all that he believed she could achieve, she thanked him for the opportunity and told him she'd like "a little bit of time to think about it."

That, I knew, was the death knell. It was just a matter of time before she gave the bad news.

It took a couple of weeks, but at the end of that time, she set up a meeting and started by saying that she greatly appreciated the offer and his faith in her. She also thought it was a wonderful idea and perfect for its time.

At that point, she very gently told him that she wasn't going to accept because:

  • She wasn't sure she would be able to fulfill his expectations and
  • She didn't want to disappoint him, so 
  • It didn't matter that he believed her capable. She wasn't willing to try. She'd rather keep her current job.
What was that job? She was a PA.

There's a lesson here. In fact, there are a lot of them. But, for our purposes, it's this:

When you're asked to sit at the table, do it. Take your seat. Then show them why they made the right decision extending the invitation.

Kelly was an idiot. She let her fears drive her. Worse, because she was so used to - and comfortable with - being deferential to her "betters" (yes, she used that word, too), she killed her own opportunities. She took away her own future.

Big or small, when an opportunity presents itself, make sure you only have one answer ready: Yes.

It doesn't matter whether you believe you can do it or not. Suspend your disbelief. Whoever is asking knows what they're doing - otherwise they wouldn't have asked. After all, it's not like they're some kind of benevolent society willing to put their own reputation on the line.

They ask because they know you have something to offer. Something that will make them look good. They're not doing you any favors. It's all about them.

So, go ahead. Sit at the table. It's time. Your time.