If you could pass on only one lesson to someone starting their career, what would it be?

A friend’s son, who starts employment this week after graduating recently from University, asked this question. The youngster – full of enthusiasm, hungry to succeed and keen to pay off his student loan – wants to move up the career ladder swiftly. The Badger considered many possible answers, but after brief reflection one simple answer stood out, namely ‘Learn how and when to say No!’. The youngster was intrigued and wanted to know what underpinned the answer. The Badger thus described a material event from his own experience.

A senior business leader, one of the Badger’s bosses in a matrixed organisation, was summoned by a client to explain considerable underperformance on a contract. The Badger had drawn attention to this for some time, but the leader had taken no action. The meeting with the client was arranged for the first day of a long-scheduled Badger Summer vacation. The Badger was not material to the contract, but the leader insisted the Badger attend regardless. The Badger didn’t like attending whilst on vacation but felt obliged when adverse comments about loyalty and career progression featured in the leader’s communications.

On the day of the meeting, the leader arranged to meet an hour before the client session to confirm messaging and tactics. Instead the leader used this pre-meeting to unfairly berate and blame the Badger for the whole situation. The Badger was taken aback. The leader’s words were like facing into the full force of a hair dryer! To say the Badger was annoyed is an understatement. The subsequent client meeting, however, was benign, straightforward, and constructive, and the Badger sat there wondering why he was attending on a vacation day.

On the way home afterwards, the Badger decided to ‘Learn how and when to say No!’ better. Since then the Badger said No – and meant it – in many situations to great effect. Did it damage the Badger’s career? No. Was the Badger’s loyalty ever questioned when saying No? No. Did the Badger become disrespected or a ‘negative’ person? No. The pressure described above from some leaders are not unusual but never be afraid of the consequences of saying No. If there are consequences, then question your enterprise’s real values and whether you’re in the right organisation. So, what happened after the client meeting? Issues were resolved, and the senior business leader left their post a few months later.

The youngster said he would not forget the seven-word answer to his question, and the Badger believed him! What would your answer to the question be?

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