Telling the Boss ‘No’

Originally posted to Korn Ferry Institute on February 25, 2019. 

There’s saying “no” to your boss, and then there’s what Kepa Arrizabalaga did in an English soccer title game that’s drawn international attention.

In the waning minutes of a tense game between powerhouse soccer clubs Chelsea and Manchester City, the manager of Chelsea felt his goalkeeper, Arrizabalaga, was hurt and had to come out. But the player would have none of it. Arrizabalaga refused to come off the field, the manager fumed, and Chelsea went on to lose.

Sound familiar? The stakes and dramatics might not be as high, but corporate leaders certainly hear protests to their decisions all the time—and even outright refusals. It’s a tricky proposition for any boss, but experts say it can create an opportunity for the firm when handled well.

According to Kevin Cashman, a Korn Ferry leadership coach, leaders can hear “no” from an employee and use it as a way to create value for everyone. “Bosses have to be open, self-aware, and agile enough to know that they may be wrong at times,” Cashman says. But letting direct reports refuse orders at the wrong time—or in the wrong way—not only jeopardizes the boss’s reputation but also can damage the organization as a whole.

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