Are you familiar with Yes-If?

Lots of Leadership Programs assume that women need simply to gain skills and confidence, in order to take on higher levels of promotion. More confidence and skills are the focus of lots of our work with clients too, but what about the women who feel quite competent and confident about progression. When asked, their desire for leadership is best expressed as

‘Yes-If I can do that next role on my terms’.

Around 10% of women I work with say it’s not confidence that holds them back: it’s a  question of whether they actually want what comes with the next promotion. These woman have seen the pressure, the hours, the strained personal relationships and physical burnout that comes with the top job. They don’t want to play at that table. They’re highly respected inspirational leaders, but their career progression pauses at a level they believe a healthy balance can be maintained.


Come up with a “yes, if” list. I’ll explain in just a second.

See there are a growing number of men and women who redefine leadership. They shake up the roles when they arrive, anything from the culture they encourage in the team, the interactions that team has with stakeholders, the outputs they deliver. What does it look like:

  • Men who buck the 6pm trend and refuse to work past 5pm, so that their team perceives permission to do the same.
  • Women who forge stronger partnerships with stakeholder groups, so that both expectations and boundaries are more clearly defined and gains realised on all sides.
As Gary Worboys of NSW Police says,

“It’s a good time to be an innovative leader, because people are willing to allow you to step outside the box.”

If you sound apologetic when you plant your flag, it’s not going to work. Conviction and good communication skills are vital. Be enthusiastic. Be clear and consistent about the limitations you’ll accept.

Ok, so what’s the Yes-If Checklist?

Saying No to opportunity can be career limiting. Yes-If is a way to progress, without compromising your values or burning bridges.

The Yes-If Checklist is the 2-pager every person should have, to measure whether job opportunities are right. Should you say yes to a project, or is it going to keep you from the next opportunity that you really, really would like to get stuck into? In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to separate emotion and confidence and ego from the opportunities at hand. The Yes-If Checklist is a 2-pager that you’ve put together ahead of time, that carries your key criteria. It enables you to negotiate, so that you reach a role you can deliver to, in an environment that works for everyone.

Your Yes-If checklist lays out what’s most important to you, what you will and will not compromise on.

Your yes-if checklist lays out what you will and won't compromise on

It’ll list your nice-to-have’s and your non-negotiables. It will list the things you’d like to keep doing,, things you want to stretch into and certainly responsibilities to avoid. These are the tasks that maybe you were once brilliant at, but you don’t want to be hands-on wth anymore.

So far it’s sounding like a ‘yes or no’ checklist. Let me explain the ‘if’.

An opportunity is presented: “We’d like you to take on this role. It will see you being responsible for two teams, one of which is understaffed and angry. It’s probably going to take a lot of hours to get this sorted in the short term and we’d like you to start immediately.

  1. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. I don’t think that combination of roles can succeed. Say no to the offer.
  2. I don’t believe it’s possible, but they believe in me and I don’t know how to say no, so I’ll say yes. Then deliver to 70% of my usual standard and burnout.
  3. “I’m really excited about what you’re proposing. It’s a great challenge and I want to be clear that I’m committed to the success of these teams. Building trust and engagement is going to be critical to the success of this project. I will take this project on, if I have your support to do it my way. That includes bringing in additional resources for the first few weeks. I’ll also be speaking with our stakeholder groups to push back the expectations and gain buy-in from the existing team members, to the changes ahead.”

Of course there’s risk in stating your Yes-If. The answer may be a ‘no thanks’. The beauty of a Yes-If Checklist, is that you’re clear on where you can flex and what’s non-negotiable. If they say no to your Yes-If proposal, it’s not something you could have lived with anyway. You’ve just saved yourself a career misfire.

HINT – what’s on your ‘yes if’ list should be the focus of your resumé and LinkedIn profile too. If your skills to avoid are the beacons on your resumé, you’ll continue to attract jobs that frustrate you.


The don’t be ars’d Yes-If Checklist® is one of the resources in our online membership program. You can download it HERE if you’d like to have a go. It provides prompts to help you identify what you want to do more of and what to leave behind.

Now if you’re one of the 90%+ who does indeed struggle with Self-Doubt or imposter syndrome? Check out this on-demand free webinar we recorded recently. The feedback was hugely positive. Attendees said they implemented multiple items immediately.


Women don’t only need to see other women in leadership, they need to see a range of individuals they can identify with. Diversity comes in many forms. If innovation is important to me, then I need to see innovative leaders having a go at new ideas. If balance is important to me, then I need to see that balance is celebrated at a senior level, so I know it’s acceptable for me to build that into my role. What do we do to help these women?

Find out what’s valued. If your leadership team shares that value, make sure it’s transparent.

Inclusion isn’t just about the numbers. At a junior level, we’re seeing some impacts of recruitment policies that appeal to broader, more diverse individuals.

But do your executive level leaders genuinely encourage people to bring THEMSELVES to the role? How are you encouraging the people already in senior leadership to lead authentically?

Sameness stifles innovation

If your whole leadership team has a similar background, you’re not promoting inclusion. I mean industry experience, schooling, gender, culture, age, location, footy code, thinking styles, etc. Is your leadership team primarily conservative traditionalists who work 8am to 5:30pm day in day out? If so, that’s the expectation you’re asking for, throughout the organisation.

Make a PR story of the individuals who are successful in different ways, who exemplify different values. Ensure the leadership team is visible, in celebrating uniqueness.

Cath Nolan

MD, Gender Gap Gone

Ready to take the next step in your career? Let’s talk about how a Coach might benefit you. Email me directly at to line up a conversation.

Download Yes-If template