The Four Yeses and Leadership


A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

Real leaders, experienced leaders, leaders who get results and develop more leaders, have a special wisdom when it comes to people and conversations.  They have developed this “special” wisdom from experience, not divine insight or genetic roulette.  And most of this experiential learning comes from being let down when people say, YES!

The conversation is had, instructions given, the reply is YES, move on to the next issue, assuming that YES means: YES, I will act on it. YES, I will get it done.  After a while those in leadership positions begin to realize that YES does not always mean something will happen or that people will follow your instructions.

Wise leaders understand the 4 YESES

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.  ~George Bernard Shaw

Things are rarely as they appear, and that is especially true in human conversations and giving instructions to others. As in most human interactions, there are various levels, or layers, to the meaning of words.  Weak or novice leaders hear YES, assume the instructions or communication is received, and move on.  Over time they will learn that there are at least FOUR LEVELS of YES:

  • First YES:  I see you are talking.
  • Second YES: I actually hear you talking.
  • Third YES: I understand what you are saying.
  • Fourth YES: I will act on it.

Taking the first YES and believing your job is done often leads to disappointment, time lost and extra cost.  All things good leaders should avoid.

Overcoming the “No Commitment” YESES

Experienced leaders who understand the Four YESES don’t take the first yes, but continue to probe, ask for confirmation, ask questions like When? How? With Whom? Where? How Much? By What Date?

If you want the result, go the extra mile to get to the real YES!

John R Childress

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, both available in paperback on Amazon and as an eBook on

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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