“Say, yes. And if you’re lucky, you will find people who say ‘yes’ back. Now will saying yes, get you in trouble at times? Will saying yes, lead you to some foolish things? Yes, it will, but don’t be afraid to be a fool. Cynics don’t learn anything. Cynics always say no. But saying yes, begins things. It’s how things grow.” ~ Steven Colbert in his 2006 commencement speech to the graduates at Knox College.
This story isn’t about me, or even Harold, really.
It’s about the power of “yes,” and it’s true.
More than how it curbed my enthusiasm, I mostly remember how it outright dampened my spirit.
I’d just enjoyed an hourlong visit, and a cup of coffee with an old friend. Three years earlier, he’d presided over the ceremony where Dana and I became husband and wife.
We talked about life’s ups and downs, some common challenges we’d both shared, and how it can sometimes just wear you all down. Then he hit me with something I never expected.
“You know, I haven’t had a vacation in 17 years. I really need a vacation,” Harold said, explaining that he had neither the money, nor the time for a really relaxing trip.
Seventeen years. That’s a very long time.
This is Harold. Actually, his name is Bill Barber, and he’s one of my wisest friends. Bill has said “yes” more times than anyone I know.
Minutes later, I left our visit determined to put the 75-year-old Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere, anywhere, tropical, for at least a week. But I would need some help. I would surely need some “yesses.”
Harold is a man who goes above and beyond the call for whatever it is he’s called to do. For a year or more we attended the same church where Harold was then leading its membership through a time of transition to a point where a new pastor would ultimately be appointed. I got sick of the politics and left the church months long before it all came to pass, but faithful Harold stayed behind to lead where no one else could, and he wasn’t one bit mad at me for doing what I had to do. He just wanted me to be okay. That’s why I love Harold. He “gets” things.
For me, the very thought that Harold hadn’t seen a vacation in 17 years was unacceptable, and I intended to do something about it, and right fast, but I’d need some help.
On a dime, I scrapped the day’s schedule, and put on my fundraising hat. In a previous career as director of development at a 12,000-student university, I’d helped raised millions of dollars a year over several years, so the $5,000 we needed to put Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical would be no big deal, I thought, and I had every intention of raising it by 5 o’clock that afternoon, and putting Harold on a plane to somewhere tropical in the next two weeks.
I went back to my office and wrote down 10 names. Ten names in Harold’s church who I really thought would see the need and vision for this wonderful opportunity to “give back” to Harold for all his wisdom and leadership over the years. And, moreover, 10 names that I thought could cough up $500 each on the spot, and never miss a dime.
An hour later the list was on paper, and I was making phone calls.
“I think it’s a great idea, but I’m not sure the time is right,” one said. “Maybe in a few months.”
“Don’t you think this is something we ought to run by the leadership?” another asked.
“I see where you’re coming from, and admire the effort, but why such a hurry?” another finally confessed.
Less than halfway through the calling list, it was clear we weren’t going to put 75-year-old Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical that week, or any other time for that matter.
No one would say “yes,” to such a whimsical gesture from such an apparently naive dreamer.
Harold’s still there, giving as much as ever, and he’s not getting any younger.
Many months later “when the time was right,” the church leadership went on to acknowledge Harold. I’m pretty sure they gave him a certificate of achievement.
One day soon, I’m going to put Harold and his wife on a plane to somewhere tropical. Count on that.
To lead a movement, one of the greatest qualities a person can possess, I suggest, is the ability to say “yes” now, and figure out the “how” later.
Are you a leader? At your company? In your family? In your church?
Want to see your team make a difference? Learn how to give a reflexive YES. Stop throwing up barriers to the very people who want to make a difference.
Stop making them sense apprehension at the very thought of asking your PERMISSION.
Lead with a yes, and ask how later.
Now what laughable dream will you say yes to, today?