The Second Mix Podcast - Reflect, Revise, and Remix Your Life
Aug. 26, 2021

"No" Is A Powerful Tool with Executive Coach John Chilkotowsky

Choose what you focus on! If you say yes to anything, you are saying no to a lot of other things. There are only a handful of personal development principles, and when we work on any of these, we are working on the same things that the top executives and leaders are working on in their own lives. Things like focus, making sure you can say no to the good things, so you you can say yes to the great things, and how to find out where your strengths are. 

I’m excited to have executive coach John Chilkotowsky with us!

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So you are an executive coach.  It's funny. Cause I was thinking I need an executive coach, but I'm not an executive. 

Well, so executive coach,  I like working with senior leaders. I tend to work with a lot of them at big organizations, executive coaches, the title they're expecting, I might call myself a leadership coach. I don't really call myself a life coach but again, that's just the difference is some people see life coach and they're like, oh, that's someone who's going to help me with relationships that someone is going to help me with something.

And I'm tending to focus myself on leadership. How does someone really see what they're doing in the world? What they want to make happen? What really matters to them?  Those are the things that I'm really focusing on. So executive or not that you might, there might be someone out there who calls himself executive coach.

You might be the right match, but anyway, food for thought.

Your thing, at least as I, as I saw it, when, when you wrote to me, is that saying no, how to say no saying no to the right things. That, that seems to be very important to you. 


How did that come to be 

 I started my career as a consultant working with fortune 500. I worked into leadership roles with nonprofits for years, including being an executive director. So along the way, there were a million different ways that I probably say that. When no was actually what I was saying inside.

And,  maybe just to spin it a little bit, Matt,   I was driving to work one day as a nonprofit leader, I'd help them double the size of the organization a year. And I pulled over to the side of the road. I wasn't feeling well. I thought I was having a heart attack. I wasn't, it was a panic attack, but for me it was the same thing in the moment.

I'm really like just out of left field. No idea. Couldn't work really. And I had a mentor at the time. How would you consider working with a coach? And I said, yes. And,  you know, Matt, I would have said yes to anything at that point. Let's just be clear. I didn't really understand what coaching was, but within weeks I got back on track.

I was able to work within months. I was doing better than ever. And  that was the point at which I recognized. Wow. There's so many leaders out there who are taking on too much for one reason or another. And so for me, it was very personal, as I recognized, I was saying yes to  way too many things.

And I see that now with a lot of leaders I work with  getting at, why can't I just will myself to say no to this isn't necessarily the thing that's going to work.

Are there any times that you come across to decision or a decision that each side seems equal? Each side seems just as. You, you traveled on both roads in your mind and you think I could be happy at the end of either one of those roads. 

Yeah. The questions I'm asking these are takeaway questions too, that I, I share with people is,  it's not about somebody else, okay. If somebody else is in the picture and they're asking me for something, I'm going to say am I looking for approval from this person?

Because at the end of the day, that's likely at the root of a lot of the reasons we say yes, when we actually want to say no, Right. But if it's just myself, I'm asking,  how am I adding value to my life by saying yes, here or, or no here?  If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to? And I think that's the one that to get at the balancing part of this Matt that you were saying, how is this going to impact my clients, my family, my friends, my health, my sense of joy in the world.

So the equal part of it, I would argue there's probably somewhere in there that those questions are going to shake that out. And again, it's, it's not about saying yes is wrong. It's being able to step back and reflect about what's really important to me. What's really important to these other people in my life.

And then from that step into action and make a decision that, that serves you and all these other people.

So a lot of this is would you say getting clarity on what you want? Like you said, take a step back. People use that phrase a lot, but it really does mean. Outside of this decision that I have to make 


correct me if I'm wrong, but you take a step back and you say, what do I want out of life?

What do I want out of all this stuff? And then once you've decided that step back toward the decision and say, which is going to get me what I've just decided I wanted. 

A hundred percent match a hundred percent. And I would say that, yeah, that point of what do I want is going to come from reflection to begin with. Right. What I find that, you know, I'll speak for myself, but also for the, leaders I work with there is this piece right now, and it's been happening for a while, but it seems like it's accelerating the speed at which we're working and stuff.

What's easiest sometimes becomes the default. Is it, am I saving time? If I just say yes to this, am I avoiding a conflict? If I say yes to this and you know, it's sure. Yeah, absolutely. But what's the other side of it. How am I, how am I helping this person learn and grow in their own leadership? If I say yes to this, how, how is avoiding that content?

Actually holding our relationship at a lower level, maybe more on the surface where, actually engaging that conflict right now could help us both create something even more than we have now.

 Engaging in conflict. That does sound scary, right? 


you're stepping toward the conflict. 

yeah. Yeah.  There's a quote I read recently that I really liked. Am I lying to you if I tell the same lie to myself. 

And so I guess for me, if I'm in a relationship and I'm saying, do you know what? I think it'd be so much better if we just don't talk about this. I think it'd be so much better if we don't go to this level of conflict.

If we don't bring this up. Conflict is actually an assumption, right? We're assuming that it's going to be hard. I could imagine, you know, a really simple thing as stranger I'm in a movie theater. If we ever get back to movie theaters, I'm in a movie theater and I'm walking out of the bathroom and I have a piece of toilet paper on my shoe that I don't see.

And a stranger walks up to me and says, Hey man, you got a piece of toilet paper on your shoe. They took a little risk there at being able to point out the truth. And then they've probably saved me a lot of embarrassment. Right. But equally there could have been five other people who were like, oh, see that guy with toilet paper.

Oh my gosh. Look at that. Or, you know, I want to tell him, but it just feels embarrassing to, to broach that topic. So I think, what I like to pivot to is like, what's the opportunity. Because if we're coming into that conversation with like, what's the opportunity here rather than how bad could this be?

How could this be upset? That's that's a place where you're likely to get a better outcome in the first place. Right?

Right, Right?

And it seems like if you're, if you're saying what's the opportunity and there's not much opportunity, then the question's already answered. Like what, why go into this conflict?  If this the end result isn't worth the conflict that I'd have to go through. 

Yeah. And the, and the other piece there, I would say what just came up when you said that is, I think the question is


am I out of integrity with my own values? If I don't speak up here, that that tends to be the one, like I'll speak for myself, but also for people I work with when you come right down to it, if you say, am I in integrity right now in being.

Or am I, and most often it's no right. That's, that's what I'm hearing. But to your point, there could be a point where it's like, do you know what bringing this thing up right now actually would be horrible for me, for them. But I find that so many times we've pushed so many things into that place.

We say, oh, do you know what? It's not the right time. It's not the right. I'm going to wait until the, oh, they're upset. Oh, something happened, there's stress, we're busy. And so. I want to anybody who's listening say also, there's a point at which we just keep putting it off forever and it tends to be, if we just stepped in with something coming from a place of where the opportunity is, we're better.

We're more likely to have the relationships, have the life we want most likely.

I like that. Yeah. if we're looking for any kind of an excuse to not embrace or engage in conflict, we're going to find it. we're going to find an excuse where our brains are going to find that reason. 

Yeah, it's gonna, it's gonna find its absolute match.

I liked that you brought. Integrity into it, because would you say, I mean, questioning your values has to be right up there at the top, along with opportunity. And that is a like, is this, is this the kind of person I want to be? What am I going to become on the other side of this?

Not necessarily just, is it gonna make me a million dollars a year, but to say, who am I becoming. 

Yeah, absolutely. If, if someone said to me, John, I'd really love to work with you. Oh, what do you want to work on? I really want to make a million dollars,  to me, it's like, that's not enough. It's gotta be, well, what will that million dollars make possible for you or your family or your loved ones?

Oh, well, you know, I'm going to buy it. I'm going to get a yacht. Okay. Well, what will that yacht get for you?  At some point, if the motivation's not there at the.  Something besides just a nice thing to have. They're not going to do the work, and I put myself in that boat as well.

Like, um, no pun intended, uh, you know, if I don't have motivation for something adequate motivation for something I'm not going to do it. And so to your point, there's a lot of different ways to look at values, but in the end of the day, you could say, Hey, the people, the five people who know you best, what would they say about you?

What would they say are your like key qualities that just undoubtedly, everyone's going to say, oh, well Matt's this or John's that? So sometimes I ask people if they are they're wondering, well, how can I really know what my values are? That's just one way to start is asking some people around.

 And you can just ask it of yourself. What do you know everyone in your life, man, I'm not putting you on the spot here. What would anyone who really knows you? Well say,  Matt values, this, you could probably come up with three to five things like just as a start for that.

So I'll just throw that one out there.  But then I would also add from my experience asking those kinds of questions to people in different parts of your life will provide some  interesting feedback and by interesting, I mean, things we probably don't own yet in our lives.

. I like that as an exercise, actually, they just start asking what, what do you, how do you say it? What do you think? I value?  

Yeah. Yeah.  What do you think are the three strongest qualities that I bring.  Values may or may not fit nicely into that. But so from that, you can start to tease it apart. I did one thing that, where I reached out to 25, 30 people in my life from the past 10, 15 years from work from personal and there were a series of questions, but then the last two questions were, I didn't come up with these.

The last two questions were, if John was a car, what make and model car would he be? And why. 

The second one was, if John was a household appliance. What kind of household appliance would he be and why be descriptive? Right. Those questions. I know that sounds silly. Right. But those questions got so much good stuff in it for me of figuring out, oh, someone thinks I'm a 1935 Bugatti Roadster.

Why. And then all the pieces that follow somebody thinks I'm a Dyson vacuum, cleaner, why? Right. It has to do with innovation.  Just to say, I dunno how those questions would come off, but those, I think those questions are cool because they're fun. Right. They're fun.

And they have people think creatively. When I received the answers and I was laughing, I was laughing and I also went, Ooh, look at this pattern here that I didn't really see in myself.

There's some people I've got to ask some of these questions too. Like, like for me, I don't mind being on the spot in my podcast or anywhere else. so I recently, two months ago was in a position where I was, I said, I'm going to expand my networking. Start talking to people, started emailing people just, just really go big, not for fame or anything, but just say, if I hear somebody say something awesome, I want to connect with them. And then I had like five opportunities at the same time. Out of all these people, oh man, I've got this great, w I need your help with this and all that kind of stuff. And I asked all five of them, like after I made my decisions and went through all that, I was like, what, what value?

Who did you see in me? Why did you want me to work? Nobody really gave me an answer. Is it just because I'm a nice guy and I'm fun to talk to? Or what, like, why do you want me? And nobody really had a good answer.

Could I, could I ask you, Matt, just, just, you had said like you'd made a real intention to, to reach out and network. Like what if, what, if anything, do you think was different about you maybe in that time?

During the time?

I guess the fact that I did open up I'm usually like, okay, I've got my opportunities and these are the key people that I need to keep working with, but to never really just expand and say, let's pull more people into my network and see who see who filters in really.

I mean, that's the. You know, you talk to a hundred people and six of them are just going to adore you. And that's just the way that it goes and that you're going to get along with them as well. So just my, uh, guts and outreach, I didn't do anything audacious, but, but I just reached out and said, Hey, I like what you're doing.

I think it's really cool. And I'd love to talk.

I could imagine if I was on the other end of that, I would, I would receive that,  I would at least receive your confidence and also. You took the time. Whereas a lot of people might not 

This is good. This is like free coaching. This is why I started a podcast, John. 

Brilliant. It's brilliant.

around and talk to the best people in the world at what they do. I absolutely love it. 


So let's, let's get a little bit more in depth on saying no to people, because I just said no four times in the last couple of months, do you have a pattern or a system or a way to actually turn down opportunities that doesn't kill you for later? 

Yeah. Well, the first part to me is I think it is, we talked about that sort of balance before I think. Recognizing the real costs.  Is this going to cause, my relationship to either sour or just stay where it is? Is this going to bring anxiety, stress, burnout, like all of those things, if I'm not able to say no more often or appropriately, that's where I'm going.

Right. I think for any of us, and 


I think, Again, that this piece of saying yes is saying no to other things. So generally, no, I have this, activity I do with people and, I just call it left column, right. Column. I use left column, right. Column for a lot of things. And you've probably heard, other activities that are similar.

But in here I say, okay, And the left column put everything that could go wrong if you say no more often. Right? So people might say, well, people might not like me as much as they do now. I could face more conflicts that are messy. I could be seen as being difficult. I could lose a relationship. I could lose my job.

Right? Like this, all those things could be in there somewhere. And in the right column, put everything that could go. Right. If you say no more often. I could finish every day knowing that, that I worked on what mattered most. I mean, that's just one, right? Like how many of us can say that most days? 

 People might respect me for, and trust me for being clear on my prior.

Um, I could be seen as being confident. I could get a promotion, I could build relationships and have others asked me to be their mentor. And so, you know, these are just examples, but I think within, within any of us, there's this piece of, there's probably something we say yes to a certain situation or a person or an authority figure or something like that, that we might say yes to more often than no.

And that's the place where I would get even more specific with like, In this particular, you know, it's, it's done a reflection, not all in the moment, but it's like, you know, in reflection, who am I saying yes to that? That's saying no to would be healthier.  What's the upside, what's the downside. And then it's, you know, and this is where it gets a little tricky, but I might say what's one thing you can start saying no to, as an experiment.

Right. And just as an experiment. So we're talking about, try it. Try it twice. Try it three times and then recognizing the motivation behind this is what's possible, to say yes to when you do say no in that case. So that was a bunch, Matt. I'll pause there.

No, that's good. I love that you have so many exercises because in this podcast where I try to give people exercises. All the time. So, so we'll talk about that at the end. Cause maybe you can give one exercise to everybody, but, Yeah. That is a lot to absorb. And then the actual act of saying no, 


how tricky does that get. 

yeah, sure. some, some tips on this, maybe if I could offer just, just tips and just this one, one thing is, again, if we're looking for approval, something tends to help people in saying no is, is being polite. Right? So being able to even say like, thanks for asking dot, dot, dot, you know, however you might say no, I would also say being direct, and I know this is going to right after I said being polite, but being direct.

So saying. Thanks for asking, but, um, no I can't or thanks for asking. No, I don't want to, um, but not apologizing and giving like this laundry list of reasons. That's the thing that really makes the no less. you and to them, it's like, oh, well, um, can you do this? Oh, no, I got this thing. And then my family and, oh, the weather's not good.

And you say that, like, it just starts to sound like, why are you telling me all this? You know, I just, I just wanted you to come check on my cat. You know what I mean? Like right.

I, well, you know, another thing about that laundry list of excuses about why you can't do something is that that turns into. Your objections for this person to overcome so that you can do it instead of just a clear no. Now they say, well, if I can overcome those three things, then you're not going to have a reason to say no.

And then you could actually get roped in by your own language. 

yes, yes, absolutely. Also remembering that yourself. It doesn't depend on how much you do for other people. I think that's the tough one. That's somewhere in the core of this, right. Is if I do more for other people, um, then I'm going to feel better about myself. And I think that's the thing that I'm not saying it's a, you know, somebody's going to try this once and it's all going to click.

It's probably going to be with us for life in some way. To be able to recognize it more quickly. Uh, this is the kind of situation. This is the kind of person, this is the kind of thing that where I would say yes. And then at the end, I'll just I'll share, a practice that might be helpful with this, Matt.

Excellent. Excellent. Yeah. That, uh, self-worth topic can be an entire podcast episode in itself. Right? I, I do get, uh, I get caught up in feeling like I've got to do something to, to feel that


trying to not, not meditate. I do other things besides meditation. To go find that so forth in my head without having to do something for someone or to have a list of reasons why I'm worth it even just to say I'm worth it because I'm alive.

I'm here. 


I had someone they gave the metaphor, I guess it was, they said that it was like they woke up every day with their pockets, filled with coins, and then every day they would, they would, uh, give them out through the things they did for other people. And at the end of the day, their pockets were empty.

And so the next day they were filled again and now they had, they felt they had to keep giving out these coins. To keep being liked, approved in a good place in relationship, not rejected. And so that's the, that's the, I don't know if that, I don't know what that evokes for you, Matt, but it's like, for me, when I heard that, I was like, yes, I've, I've felt that for sure.

Yes, I think, yeah, I'm kind of like that. And then I was thinking if I don't give any of that money away, I'll feel great about myself. I don't know. I don't know how to figure that. And I might cut that out of the episode. This, this will be sliced. 

Fair enough. 

I'll leave. I'll leave your analogy in there, but, uh, 

No, no worries. No worries.

we are good.

That was just the first thing I thought was, wow, I'll stop doing things for people. I'll feel great about myself. That's not where we were going with that though. 

yeah. Yeah. 

Okay, so in yes, in saying, no, I just want to say this to you and my listeners. Cause I just did this and had probably the best, no experience that I've ever given.

And, and that was a guy had been asking me work for me, worked for me, worked for me. He's like, I can't do this without Matt Bennett. I don't want to do this without Matt Bennett. I said no to him. And I was like, look, you like me because of an entrepreneur. You like me because I'm free to study all this stuff that I study.

I'm free to spend all the time with my kids that I want. You like me for all these reasons. As soon as I'm working 45 hours a week for you in that office, you will hate. Like, that's it. I said, I would rather go back to being a musician for $10,000 a year than to work in an office. And I said, it's not you like, this is it now.

It's funny. He, he said, he said that kind of response proves to me that you're going to be, you're going to be making seven figures before no time. He's like that proves to me he's but then he said, but it only makes me want you more. 

 What do you, what do you, I mean, you, you kind of said it mapped, but like, what do you think the, the key question for you is and whether and how you said no there, cause that you just gave a great example.

The the key, you mean in my response to him, 

Like what were you asking yourself? You know?

I think I was asking myself, who would I be if I take this job? 

Nice. Yeah.

 I really love the life of waking up with my six year old and three year old. And then. It's a nice summer day and we just go play outside and I take my journal and I write in my journal while they're running around in the backyard. Like, there's nothing better than that. And, uh, and I truly don't care if I'm making 5,000 a year or 500,000 a year.

That's what I want. 

Yeah. I'm with you on that one. I've got two teenage daughters and I feel the same way. 

Is there anything else you wanted to cover? 

no, I think that's great, Matt. I know you've got the 43 second question 

Yes, I'm going 

I, that I put some thought I put some thought into. So that was, uh, that was really good to reflect on. 

Well, I'm glad. Thank you. Thank you for actually working at the exercise. That's great. I'll start timing you then. No, we'll uh, Well, let me ask you first about the exercise. What, what exercise would you give to my 

Oh, yeah. This might sound really simple and I would encourage people to try it if it, even if it sounds too simple, just try it once. So being able to get really specific again, like I was saying before about either the person or the specific situation or the kind of where you might be saying yes, then you'd rather say no is being able to, whether you want to close your eyes or not, but like actually imagining that scenario.

And this is probably, you know, by yourself. Uh, at first, but actually practice saying it out loud. So being able to say, you know, um, no, uh, no jetty, no, Jimmy, I can't do that. Thanks for asking. I'm not going to be able to do that, just to be able to practice that a few times. I know it sounds simple, but I find that when we do that and we're imagining that person or that situation, when it comes up, it's just like, if you're, an athlete and you practice imagining yourself going through the moves and you imagine yourself being successful, it's not saying it's going to make it easy, but it's going to make it, hopefully just pass that.

Where are your, your judgment until now we'll cut you off and say bad thing happens, right. It would be like, ah, just try it once. So that's my it's really so, but I will, for the people by that when, and then other people will try it with other people, right. Not the person in, in question, but you know, a friend or, or someone else in their life.

Um, and give that other person a chance to respond. You know, so again, you have the know what's the worst case of there really are they really going to say, oh, you're no longer my friend you're no longer, or they're going to yell at you? No, it's probably not. You know? So anyway, that's just a simple thing.

I'd say, Matt, it sounds very simple. I would say it's likely to help people who have a very specific situation.

Okay. That is an excellent exercise, actually. I'm I might start doing it. It is, uh, as a musician, I rehearse on the piano. If I'm going to play something I rehearse. And so that when it comes time to play in front of an audience, I execute 


Even if I'm nervous or scared or embarrassed, my fingers still do what they're supposed to do. So, this is kind of the same thing, but my mouth will do what it's supposed to do. My mouth will do my mouth will do whatever hurts. So 

Yeah, Matt. Just, can I ask what's your favorite? Uh, what's your favorite, uh, piano style music.

uh, blues. And then like the 50 sixties rock honky-tonk I've played blues and country piano. They're so simple. 

Nice. Does the boogie woogie make WIC make its way in there? 

Boogie woogie definitely makes its way in there. 

Awesome. I'm a, I'm a real, I'm a real fan of boogie-woogie so yeah.

have a trip planned. Jerry Lee Lewis has a house in Memphis. I've been to his house where he lives, but he lets you go on tours of his house and he's living. I mean, he lives up, he lives in the house and his son runs it. 


but they say sometimes he comes down when you're doing a tour.

So I was going to go play one of his songs really well on the piano and see if I can get him to come down while I'm on a tour of his house. So I've got that trip almost planned for this fall, going to, I'm going to Memphis and Nashville. 

Well, well, good luck with that, Matt. That sounds pretty awesome. 

Thank you. I'll let you know if I, if I get to meet Jerry Lee Lewis. 

Yeah. Okay. 

All right. So I have one last question for you, 


 If you have. 43 seconds to have the entire world onstage or on the phone that everybody in the world could hear you and listen to your message.

What would you tell them? 

 I believe we are all leaders. With worthy goals and dreams that will positively impact the world. And at this time in history, we need leaders who are willing to aim big, fail, fail again, and keep getting up, learning, growing, and contributing and even greater levels. And my question for everyone is what is your one worthy goal that will change people's lives and.

What will that require of you? In what way must you change, learn and grow to do that. And I would say welcome to your life's work and thank you for living there.

Thank you very much. So let me ask you, where can we find you if we need to get ahold of you? 

Yeah, the easiest way to get ahold of me. Matt is my website, www dot north star dash.