Why Leaders Need to Ask, “Is That a Promise?”

LeadershipThe compliance department of a large organization wasn’t getting the paperwork it needed from the sales team. This was holding up the deals that sales had worked so hard to close, and everyone was frustrated. Finally, one of the sales leaders proposed that the compliance department train the salespeople in the correct protocol. “Sure, I think we can do that,” the compliance leader responded, a bit casually. Everyone seemed ready to move on, but the sales leader persisted: “Is that a promise?

”In today’s complex and interdependent organizations, managers increasingly rely on others to take initiative and be accountable. With broader spans of control, increasing specialization, shorter launch cycles, and greater use of shared services, managers simply cannot deliver if their teams and staff in other functions don’t step up to the plate.

Yet many leaders are surprisingly sloppy when it comes to asking for commitments from others. They either accept the sort of ambiguous commitment given by the compliance leader above, or they do the hard work of laying out a vision, an opportunity, or a plan, then fail to ask others to commit to making it happen. “I don’t want to sound like I’m asking for permission,” said one executive I worked with. Unfortunately, this means many conversations end with no commitments at all.

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