The one way effective leaders make requests

It is surprising how often leaders do not actually ask for what they need.

The Surdek Team
December 13, 2021
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There is a pattern we often see when working with our clients in executive positions. Imagine a meeting where as a leader, you want to get certain things done. Because you do not wish to come across as controlling, you say certain things like "this project has a deadline coming soon".

You use this type of indirect language instead of asking for what you want. But what can often happen is that you go around in circles around the topic instead of taking it head on.

Your team may also not understand what you expect exactly, or who is responsible for doing it. So they may not act, and the real issue stays unresolved.

In this article, we will examine how you can express your needs more clearly to get the results you want.

Start by noticing how you make requests

Take the time to notice how you make requests to your team and colleagues. Do you think that it is clear to them that you are making a request?

Take a moment and imagine an instance when you made an unclear request to someone. Did you get the result you expected? What happened for you when they did not meet your request? How did you react to this?

Sometimes we hear leaders say they are “passing a message” to someone. They will say things like we mentioned in the first paragraph of this article. Do you use this expression? What does it mean to you?

If you feel a need to pass a lot of messages to people around you, take a moment to reflect on the clarity of your requests. There is also a possibility that your team is sending you messages and you are not picking up on them.

The art of making clear requests

When a request is clear, you increase the chances of having the results you want. There are four questions you can ask yourself to clarify your request:

  1. What do you need?
  2. Who specifically is the request addressed to?
  3. When do you need it by?
  4. Is it doable and specific enough? Your team must have a way to know they have fulfilled your request. For example, telling your team to "work together better" is too vague.

An example of a clear request could look something like this: "I would like the whole team to collaborate with this other department to deliver the project before the deadline."

Although this is not framed as a question, it is a clear request. It makes you vulnerable, as you are putting yourself out there and your team may or may not accept your request. The challenge with making a clear request is that it can be uncomfortable for you. You may see it as giving orders or micromanaging people, or you may not want people to turn down your request.

From your team's perspective, receiving a clear request can be uncomfortable as well. If they agree to fulfill your request, there is now an explicit promise to do it. Are they willing to make that promise?

What if they say "no"? Do they dare tell you the real reasons why they are not willing to fulfill your request? You need to create space for your team to be able to openly say "no" to you. You also need to be willing to support them so they are able to fulfill it.

Renegotiating a promise

When you make a promise or your team makes one to you, remember it may not always be easy to keep it. In these moments, tell your team there is always the possibility to renegotiate a promise.

It can be a two-way street. Ask your team to renegotiate a promise when they cannot meet it and do the same thing with them. When their requests are unclear, ask them to clarify them so you know what they want.

What happens if you or your team are not able to deliver on a promise? Start by taking responsibility for not holding on to your end of the bargain. There may be extenuating circumstances but you still did not deliver on it. You need to own that.

You can then ask permission to renegotiate your promise. This can be something like helping them find another way to get their request fulfilled.


The key here is to remember that you cannot assume your team will always know exactly what you want when you are not being clear and explicit with them. Your first step toward having your team meet your needs is simply to make clear requests.

Making clear requests is a powerful way to co-create the results you want with your team. The system of requests and promises can be an interesting one to learn and go through with your people.

One of the difficult aspects of using this way of communicating is accountability. The clarity allows you to hold yourself and others accountable for meeting their promises.

How clear are the requests that you make in your life? How do you renegotiate promises with your team when they cannot be kept?