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Political “Yes Men” – and a Warning for All of Us

Somebody usually warns us. The bad decisions we make in life are avoidable if, and it is a big if, we would exercise the Humility to ask for and listen to the advice of others.

History is full of leaders who did not choose Humility. Instead, they surrounded themselves with “Yes Men.” The previous two presidents who faced impeachment, needed to be told “No.” I am sure there were individuals available to speak truth to them, but did they? Did these leaders create an environment where decisions could be questioned? We know in both historical cases, people knew their president was doing something wrong. Those people were either ignored or they said “Yes” in word, deed or inaction. (Inaction is another way of saying “Yes.”)

I know what it is like to be told “No.” Honestly, there are times I wish I had a team of “Yes Men.” I could easily argue it would make my life easier but I know I have blindspots. I need my team, my family and my friends to tell me what I don’t see. The saying goes, “You can’t smell your own bad breath.” I need people who will point out when I am off base. Now I admit, I don’t like it when someone tells me “No”—but in retrospect, I see the benefit. When other people lead with character and say “No”, it can prevent me from making bad decisions - both large and small.


  • I’ve had work peers and employees keep me from stepping into the gray areas in my corporate days.

  • I’ve had a friend who has kept me from angrily responding to a text from my wife, on more than one occasion.

  • And I’ve been fortunate my wife has often kept me from making sarcastic comments at inappropriate times.

It takes Courage to tell a leader “No.” It takes Humility to be open to hearing the truth.

Can you think of a time when someone prevented you from making a bad decision? When you think back on the decision can you see the possible ripple effects?

I wonder how the ripple effects of history would have been different if those presidents’ advisors had the moral Courage to say “No” when they were about to run off and make a bad decision? I suppose we will never know—and yet, it serves as a warning to me to always surround myself with individuals who have that moral Courage. It is also reminds me that it is my responsibility to create an environment where people know if they do say “No” to me it does not mean their head is going to be on the chopping block.

The lessons of history—both distant and recent—serve as a reminder to each of us. It is easy to be critical of others and the situations they find themselves in, especially in the political world. But, we should begin by looking in the mirror first. Could it be possible we grow outraged watching others do the same things we do in our own lives? I must ask myself constantly, “Do I spend any time with people who might tell me “No?” Or do I just want people to say “Yes” to what I want to do at that moment?

At the same time, I must remember to be there for other people the way I hope they will be there for me. I need to ask myself, “Do I have the Courage to tell others, “No?” After all, there are possible negative outcomes:

  • They might get angry if we say “No.”

  • They might stop asking for our advice if we say “No.”

  • They might pull away and cut off communication, if we say “No.”

  • We might even get fired, if we say “No.”

But, here is what I have learned. In order to become a Leader of Character others want to follow, I need to move past those fears and exercise the moral Courage to speak up and say “No” when it is warranted. I also need to create an environment where these fears do not exist when people should be saying “No” to me.

It is the people who have the moral Courage to disagree with us and say “No,” that we should value. The question is, do we have the Humility to listen to them?

Dig Deep Questions:

  • Who do you surround yourself with? Will they tell you “No?” Will you listen?

  • Do you have the Courage to say “No” even when a leader, spouse or a friend might not like it?

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