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How to Ask for What You Really Want

“Sam, it’d be great if you could connect with Cecilia about all this. We need to get this resolved.”

“I’d like to see you take more initiative in your role. Be less passive, and really take the bull by the horns. Can you do that?”

“Joe, I need you to work on being less abrasive in team meetings. We can disagree without being harsh. Agreed?”

These are all examples of weak requests.

Making direct requests is one of the least talked about leadership skills out there, yet learning to do it well resolves a whole host of common leadership challenges.

Take Sam, for example. What the leader is assuming (but didn’t say) in the request above is that Sam will connect with Cecilia within the next two days. The leader fully expects the issue to be resolved immediately. From the leader’s point of view, the urgency of the matter is obvious to all. Surely Sam recognizes that fact, doesn’t he?

So when two weeks go by and Sam hasn’t acted, the leader gets deeply frustrated with Sam and begins to question his honesty and work ethic.

But what the leader doesn’t realize is that Sam has five other fires he’s working to put out in addition to the issue with Cecelia. All of them feel urgent. And since the leader’s request didn’t include a deadline, Sam assumed he could put it off a week or two and address the other high-pressure situations first.

Sam didn’t drop the ball here. The leader did.

Making direct requests sounds simple on paper, but it takes more intentionality and forethought than you’d expect.

Here are the three steps to making your requests direct.

1. Get clear.

The two key questions to ask yourself here are, “What do you really want to happen?” and “How will you know when it does?”

In the second example above, the request is to “take more initiative,” “be less passive” and “take the bull by the horns,” but what does any of that really mean?