In my documentary work, I have had the privilege to interview thousands of successful leaders around the world. Through these conversations, I have learned that the most influential leaders are often strategic in what they say no to. They are consciously turning down power, applause, and or commitments that take them off mission.  Much like Eric Liddell who said no to Sunday, George Washington who said no to being a King, or Martin Luther King who said no to violence, distinguished leaders are defined by what they are saying no to more than by what they are saying yes to. These are the leaders who stand the test of time.

I aspire to be a good leader, but I am the world’s worst at saying no. I am already at capacity running Silent Images, a non-profit video and photography organization, but I just recently decided to open a coffee shop with some buddies just because it would be fun. I have major issues with saying no. Just ask my wife or friends. However, as I watch other men who are better at this than me, I notice it is also in the more subtle “nos” that gives these men the edge. It made me start to reflect on what I can say no to this week to be a better dad, husband, and friend. This is the beginning of my list:

No to texting and coloring. My 4-year-old daughter loves when I color with her, and normally I do this with my phone buzzing in one hand and a blue crayon in the other. Imagine how much more engaging I will be if I just focus on her and our time together. Not to mention, my coloring of Elsa will be of much higher quality. 

No to TV after 8 pm. After wrestling down our two toddlers, my wife and I often collapse on the couch and mentally check out while watching something mindless. This week, I will turn off the TV and use that time to engage with her or a good book.

No to noise. In my morning runs, I often have my headphones on while listening to a podcast. Nothing wrong with that, but I am often convicted of the lack of silence in my life. This week, as I do my pathetically slow paced run on the Matthews Greenway, you will see me without my shiny white headphones, listening to the sounds of the woods just like I used to when I was a kid.

No to emailing a buddy. This week, I will take the time to grab lunch with a friend or invite some guys over to my fire pit to hang out. I have been convicted at how many of my adult friendships exist within texts and emails. 

Here’s your UNCOMMEN CHALLENGE: As I take this challenge with you, let’s remind ourselves that few people will applaud us for these decisions. Nobody will write a book about a dad who turned off his cell phone, but I do believe that it is in obscurity that much of the world is changed. So be encouraged and be UNCOMMEN this week as we collectively say, “no.”

About the Author: David Johnson is the director of Silent Images and is a recovering workaholic who will be saying no to any video requests you send him this week. You can see all he has said yes to at www.silentimages.org.

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