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9.18.23- Fast Company –BY AYTEKIN TANK

Managers need to lead by example to establish a culture where saying no is acceptable.

Earlier this year, one of my favorite mentees, Dan, told me he was fed up.

His inability to say no at work was sabotaging all his efforts.

Dan was doing everything else right: growing a successful startup from scratch, building his brand, attracting investors—but his productivity was being hindered by a deluge of daily requests that left him depleted by the end of the day. Plus, by not setting boundaries, his challenges were trickling down and impacting his team. 

Dan is far from alone in this challenge. Employees are experiencing a burnout epidemic. An estimated 42% of workers say they are burned out at work. 

It’s essential then, to know how to set boundaries and how to say no to adding tasks to your plate. 

But many employees struggle with telling managers no. And managers need to lead by example to establish a culture where saying no is acceptable in order to ensure their employees feel supported. Here are five ways you can achieve this:


It starts with frustration. Many leaders may not be able to pinpoint where exactly they need to establish boundaries, but they will be able to feel itDan knew he shifted in and out of a constant state of being overwhelmed, but he didn’t make a habit of keeping track. 

If your blood pressure spikes whenever you’re asked to participate in an activity you don’t have time for—pay attention to that. “Anxiety can also be an alarm bell for a breached boundary,” write Keisha “TK” Dutes and Michelle Aslam for NPR. “Like, if you’re feeling worked up ahead of interacting with a specific person or stressed in anticipation of declining a request.”

Nedra Tawwa, a licensed therapist and author of Set Boundaries, Find Peace, adds, “Those [feelings] are indicators that perhaps there is space for boundaries in this situation.”


Practicing healthier habits around where we give our time and energy can seem like a daunting task. But by taking the initiative to put our boundaries in motion every day, we can start becoming more comfortable in how we show up for others and for ourselves. 

In his story for Harvard Business Review, Joe Sanok explains that we can overcome the impulse to succumb to other people’s requests by re-empowering ourselves. “Change your mindset around how boundaries work,” he writes. “Understand that boundaries are limits you identify for yourself and apply through action or communication.”

Experts note that we can begin a daily practice of setting boundaries by regularly assessing the things we’re willing to tolerate. If something feels off, you can create a boundary by communicating that you’re overextended


I’m a big proponent of saving your brain for the big stuff, and that means keeping your eye on the ball at all times. When you know where your focus is, it becomes easier to say no.

For example, when writing my book, Automate Your Busywork, I knew I had a deadline looming—I couldn’t take on every request asked of me at work. For this reason, I made it a point to set boundaries around my time, and communicated these to my staff who were all aware of my priorities.

This, in turn, allowed team members to similarly create their own tools and strategies to explain their bandwidth and prioritize company objectives to others.


One of the most challenging aspects of boundary-setting is how to respond to people who simply don’t respect your boundaries. 

A coworker can dismiss your request for “no work talk during lunch” and begin venting about their upcoming project. It’s up to you to determine what happens next. According to Tawwab, we need to clearly communicate that there’s no room for negotiations on a matter. “At some point, we need to say, ‘Stop.’ They need to know that that door is closed.”

In the case of your coworker, you can respond by reiterating your boundary, and if that doesn’t make a dent—choosing to begin having your lunch elsewhere.

Remember, write NPR contributors Dutes and Aslam: “You can choose the frequency, duration, and limitations of how you’re in a relationship with a person, a role, or an organization.” It’s up to you.


Ultimately, you have to figure out how to balance the energy of wanting to be liked and wanting to be a good leader. As I explained to my mentee, Dan, if being “liked” creates an environment of resentment and frustration in your workplace, then you’re not setting the right tone for you or your staff.

Keep in mind: Employees are constantly looking to you for examples of how to act. If you’re a pushover, they will be, too. If you’re chronically burned out, you’re showing them that this is the norm.

Setting boundaries, and making it a daily practice, goes beyond simply saying no. It’s about instilling a sense of empowerment in your team members and establishing a culture of respect where people aren’t afraid to speak up or voice their opinions. By demonstrating your commitment to treating people with mutual respect, you ensure that your business doesn’t just grow—it flourishes.