North Face. Chip Kelly. You and me.
What can we all have in common? The discipline of saying "No."
North Face benefits from an image of exclusivity, a brand associated with serious outdoorsy-ness... even though it seems like every pasty-complexioned network engineer wears a North Face jacket. So when the New York Times asks North Face for details on its "average" customer demographic, the company declines.
Chip Kelly, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, is famous (or notorious, if you're a journalist) for not discussing injuries to his players. That information can only help opponents prepare for his team. So when reporters ask for details on injuries, he declines, despite the fact that coaches are expected to discuss injuries.
"We're going to need a better price."
What follows this simple request (disguised as a statement)? What happens when you say this to a vendor? When a prospect says it to your salesperson?
Usually, the price drops. There may not be any compelling reason for it, there may be no good alternative, and the price may be completely worthwhile for the buyer. But someone asked for a discount, and we are inclined to say "Yes."
The cartoonish image of hard-nosed "bosses" (whoever they are) is ridiculous. Most are nice enough, regular people who are wired like everyone else. That means we're susceptible to the pull of precedent. And we're inclined to say "yes" just because another human asked us for something, particularly if that request scratches an ego itch (it's very flattering to be asked to talk about the fascinating details of your apparel company, or your football team, or your life).
But the best leaders deploy two tools: an internal compass to gauge whether saying "Yes" will help them accomplish their critical objectives... and the discipline to say "No" when it makes sense.