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Turning "Yes" into "YES!"
Strategies to release the power of shared vision in leadership

"Pastor," he said with an ominous voice. "Don't get too far ahead of us. We may end up mistaking you for the enemy and shooting you." I should have heard the warning. After all, they had given a "yes" to my proposal earlier. I assumed they would stay true to their word, but they didn't. I left feeling angry, wounded and betrayed. How could they do that to me—give their support and then withdraw it?

"Yes" is about compliance … "YES!" on the other hand, is all about commitment.

It was my first experience of an important leadership lesson: don't mistake "yes" for "YES!" The difference is a lot more than type case and punctuation.

The difference between "Yes" and "YES!"

"Yes" is about compliance. When people give their consent, often they are simply expressing tentative agreement because they don't know what else to do. Or because they don't want to have a confrontation right now. Or because they love and trust us and don't want to hurt or frustrate us.

Usually "yes" means something different than we were hoping to hear. It sometimes means a disinterested "whatever … " At other times, it means "I won't stand in your way." On occasion, it says "I hope you're right. Just don't hang yourself with the slack I've cut you." It often has a passive, limp quality—a "wait and see" attitude.

"YES!" on the other hand, is all about commitment. It has more of a fist pumping "let's go for it" tone that includes personal ownership and involvement that could even lead to deep sacrifice later on. It means "I'm inspired by the possibilities and I'm coming 'on board.' "

When those around us say "YES!" they are telling us: "This matters a lot to me, too." Implied in the exclamation mark is the question: "What can I do to help?" It is active, energetic and involved. It's the dream response for anyone presenting a proposal for a new initiative or for change in something that needs revitalization. It's the secret ingredient to most successful group ventures.

"Yes" tends to be more short-term; "YES!" provides fuel for the long haul. "Yes" is often a response to pressure from without (it's imposed); "YES!" is usually a response to a stirring from within (it's inspired). "Yes" is often tinged with anxiety; "YES!" is more confident.

"Yes" and "YES!" are both responses to the presentation of a picture of what could be in the future. The basic difference between "Yes" and "YES!" is simply ownership. A "Yes" reply means that there is still some presentation work to do. When "YES!" is given, however, it's a signal that "buy in" has occurred—what was "your" idea has now become "ours." "YES!" often takes longer to obtain, but raises substantially the likelihood of success.

"YES!" strategies

After that first painful experience of "friendly fire" from my own troops, I've studied those who have mastered the art of creating shared vision. Two patterns have emerged.

One is called the "snowball" strategy. More of a "bottom-up" methodology, it is the typical approach of visionary leaders who understand group process and are patient enough to wait for a bigger return. Best described by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline, this approach involves the leader packing a small idea snowball and then helping the decision makers push it down the hill. The idea is rolled over and over through a cycle of talking about the idea, clarifying the picture and getting enthusiastic about the possibilities. Rather than creating the idea in a completed form, the leader starts the ball rolling and then steers the process through conversations, brainstorming sessions and planning meetings. Before long, so much momentum and support has accumulated that the vision has a life of its own. The "YES!" response is packed into the snowball as it is built, and ownership becomes an integral part of the vision itself.

The other approach works more like a "rubber band." Employed more by leaders from the "top-down" tradition, this method uses the relentless, long-term force of powerful and inspiring ideas to bring decision makers to a "YES!" commitment. As the leader casts the vision through clear concept communication and low-key persuasion, it is like taking one end of the rubber band and stretching it. Effective visionary leaders understand that pulling too hard will snap the "rubber band." They trust the "pull" power of their visionary ideas will work over time, moving the group toward the goal through a series of "stretch and hold" steps. When "Yes" changes to "YES!" in the group discussion, the moment has arrived to prepare for the next pull of the rubber band. Implied in this strategy is the idea that the visionary leader has a general sense of where we should be going in the future as well as a commitment to consultation and teamwork in getting to the goal.

You can see it in their faces. It is signaled in their body language. It echoes in their excited voices when "Yes" turns to "YES!" Most things driven by "Yes" are premature and destined to failure or minimal success. Pay the price, lay the foundations for "YES!" and invest in the partnerships to make it happen. The work and the wait are worth it!

Based in Kitchener, ON, Glenn Gibson is a church growth and planting resource specialist and leadership coach with Outreach Canada.

Originally published in Horizons, November/December 2001




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