Not Everything Can Be A Hell Yes

Updated: Oct 18

When Mike* started his company ten years ago, he was full of optimism, ideas, and grit. He told himself that he would do whatever it took to make his company - at that time a young retail start-up - a success. Why? Because as a founder, that’s what you do. Your business is your baby.

Fast forward to now. Mike’s company isn’t a baby anymore. It’s all grown up, with the revenue, team, and weekly task load to prove it. And how does Mike, the proud parent, look?


You already know the answer. Instead of looking confident and at ease, he looks, feels, and acts exhausted, distracted, and in stress.


In my time as a CEO + Leadership Coach, and before that as a CEO and entrepreneur myself, I’ve seen this story play out again and again. A scrappy founder does whatever it takes, everything it takes, every day to scale their company and achieve their goals. They have a million ideas a minute. They reach that peak. Then they suddenly realize they’re drowning. They say, as a client did to me recently: “This business is my entire existence.”

Your business shouldn’t be your entire existence.

It should exist in balance with your life - those things you love and that give you energy. Your business can be one of those things, but it shouldn’t be everything.


As leaders, we are motivated by action. We find ourselves saying “yes” to so many ideas and opportunities. An expanding mindset is a great asset in leadership, but there comes a time in your company’s growth when you have to let go. When you can no longer be the one holding on to every piece of the puzzle. There comes a time when not everything can be a “Hell Yes” anymore.


“But wait!” You say, “Coach, I thought I needed to find my ‘Hell Yes’ - the thing that gets me fired up and out of bed every morning?” Of course. I’m talking to the leaders who are finding a new Hell Yes every week, every day, sometimes every hour.

Too many top priorities = Business Whack-A-Mole


If everything that comes across your desk is a “Hell Yes”, then nothing is a Hell Yes.




As CEO, you have to be able to decide, and then continually discern, which priorities, tasks, ideas and accountabilities truly belong to you, and which don’t - and then stick to it.


The Three Hell Yeses

When I talk to my clients about this, I introduce the challenge of the Three Hell Yeses. Try it yourself. All you will need is a pad or two of sticky notes and a large space to arrange them on.



Step One: Using the sticky notes, write down everything you do as part of your job every day. Yes - everything. Every task, everything you worry about, everything you get roped into, and everything you should be doing (but aren’t). This may take the better part of an hour. That’s okay. At the end, you should have a huge array of sticky notes.


Step Two: Reflect on this question: what is the job of the CEO? What is the difference between a founder and a CEO? See if you can list the mot important accountabilities of a CEO in 3-4 bullet points on a separate piece of paper.


Step Three: Look at the accountabilities for a CEO. Then look at your big pile of sticky notes. Choose ten sticky notes that you know absolutely align with what your role ought to be - these are ten things a CEO must be doing. (Not sure where to start? Contact Apex North for our C-level Scorecard Templates)

A leadership team accepts the "3 Hell Yeses" challenge!

Step Four: Our goal, as you may have guessed, is to find three sticky notes from your collection that are your “Hell Yeses” - the things that you know align with the role of CEO, and that must be done by you and no one else to move the company forward towards its goals. So at this point, ask yourself: what items from your list of ten can be delegated to others? What items belong to a founder, and which ones belong to a CEO? If you truly want your company to grow up, you need to narrow your view, and expand the team around you.

Then what? Even the best coach wouldn’t expect you to move from Founder to CEO after an hourlong activity with sticky notes. This kind of change happens incrementally within your business. Also - and this is key - it has to happen with the support of a Leadership Team.

The purpose of this activity is clarity. You have to get really clear on your accountabilities (your “Hell Yeses”) in order to communicate them to your team.

If everyone on your Leadership Team knows what your 3 Hell Yeses are (and even better, what theirs are as well) - the benefits will cascade throughout your business.
  1. It will build in accountability for you to focus on these 3 things every day. Studies have shown that people who write down a goal are more likely to achieve it, but those who write it down and have an accountability partner have an even greater likelihood of success.

  2. It will encourage your Leadership Team to determine their Hell Yeses as well. With a Leadership Team that is absolutely clear on everyone’s accountabilities, your company will see improved execution, deepened trust, and better balance so that your business exists in balance with your life.

  3. It will allow you to delegate tasks down throughout the organization. All those sticky notes you took away? Those tasks and priorities can’t be on your plate, but they don’t go away. Whose “Hell Yeses” should those be?

  4. You will be one step closer to creating meaningful metrics around each Hell Yes. These metrics increase accountability (you will have something concrete to check your progress against), increase meeting effectiveness (you will eventually be able to sail through those reports with each person giving a red, yellow, green status update), and can be used in year-end performance reviews.


Why is it called a “HELL Yes”?

Once you get clear on them, your Hell Yeses should be things you are fired up to do - either because they sit in your genius zone, or because you understand exactly how they influence your progress towards your goals. It’s also a great way to gut check your results. Remember - nothing can be a “Hell Maybe.”


More from the Success Blog:

On attracting, training, and retaining an A-level Team

On Letting Go