Accountability is a leader’s ability to plan, organize resources, and drive results. It involves planning, tracking, reviewing progress on plans, and creating a culture where people are held accountable for their results. This article provides ideas on effectively managing requests upward, laterally, and downward by communicating the deliverables effectively and making commitments matter.

It is crucial for a leader who wants to achieve great results to align their team’s goals and expectations strategically, manage boundaries for themselves and their team, and communicate effectively for the following reasons: 

·      Strategic communication is essential because a leader must extract the most relevant messages to provide clarity, rationale, and expectations to drive results. 

·      Managing boundaries and getting the team to agree involves understanding the team’s needs and the essential job requirements, articulating their views, and managing their anxiety when facing pushback from others. 

·      Effective communication is vital because expectations and outcomes don’t align when there is incomplete communication.

A frequent concern leaders express to me during our coaching conversations is when they are spread too thin. They want to better manage expectations from their manager, peers, clients, and more while delegating effectively.


Managing Requests Up, Across, and Up – 

One crucial step in managing requests is to assess one’s capacity and manage commitments satisfyingly and sustainably. The problem is leaders often have more responsibilities than time, energy, or resources to deliver on. This over-commitment exhausts them and impacts their well-being, productivity, and job satisfaction. 

When your manager is the one making the requests, it is essential to know how to respond effectively on those times when you are at over capacity. It might be challenging to decline, depending on the level of trust between you and your manager. Practicing ways to push back or negotiate the request is important because when you commit, you need to deliver; otherwise, your reputation is at stake. 

Managing Across is challenging because you need to influence peers, customers, and critical stakeholders without having formal power over them. Getting their commitment involves managing those relationships effectively and using different strategies.

When managing requests from your manager and peers, first Assess your capacity determining to what degree you can accomplish your commitments in a way that satisfies your customers, is sustainable over time, and allows you to take care of your whole life. Theurer & O’Neill Jelks suggest three steps:

1. Listing all your commitments, 

2. Flagging the ones at risk, 

3. Decide which to defer, delegate, transfer, decline, or renegotiate.

 Red flagging commitments that are at high risk is important because no boss likes to be surprised or seem ignorant of something they should know. It’s better to provide enough notice and even err on the side of over-informing.

Here are some options when responding to requests up and laterally:

  • Seek clarification –   Ask questions to clarify the request’s scope, nature, and rationale.
  • Accept – Determine when to accept and commit to the request fully: “Yes, I

accept the request to do ____ by ___.”

  • Conditionally saying yes sounds more like: “I can do ___ if ____ happens.”
  • Counteroffer – “I can’t do ___ by ___ if ____ takes place.”
  • Commit to commit. – “I need to verify with my team before I commit. I will respond by tomorrow at noon”.
  • Decline – “I cannot commit, and this is why.” Declining a request is

 tricky if you don’t have the credibility and track record of consistently.

delivering results. It’s essential to push back when you assess the

request as unclear, unreasonable, or beyond your capacity and you have constructive complaints to support your case.

Women tend to struggle to say ‘no’ more than men. Therefore, they might find themselves more overcommitted because of their natural orientation to please, nurture, and support others rather than acting boldly and asserting their viewpoints to push back. As women rise in organizations, they must practice declining more requests to demonstrate their leadership and make space for their most relevant deliverables.

Obtaining Commitments from Your Team 

Making a well-formulated request is about obtaining a commitment to get work that matters done, and it is an essential element of an effective delegation. Coordinating work effectively influences the quality, quantity, and time of the results you achieve with and through others.

Influential leaders understand the strategic importance of frequently verifying that team members understand the expected outcomes and the performance indicators that drive great results.   

These steps are for you to consider:

1.    Make Effective Requests: How well you make a request can significantly impact the results you get. Before you delegate, assess your team’s capacity and deliver an explicit request specifying what, why, how, and when.

2.    Gain Commitment: Make sure you obtain a solid commitment from others, not because you are the boss, but because your team members understand what is asked of them thoroughly and are capable and willing to deliver fully. By the way, “I will do my best.” is not a solid commitment. “Yes, I accept the request to do ____ by ___.” it is the way to respond.

3.    Ask Verification Questions: When you ask direct reports if they understand the task, they might say yes because they want to please or create a positive impression. A strategic way to verify understanding of the expected outcomes is to ask thoughtful questions, such as:

·      Based on your experience, what is a realistic date to complete a project like this?

·      Who should we involve?

·      What obstacles do you anticipate?

·      What concerns do you have at this point?

Bear in mind that every leader will face resistance from their team, especially when it is time to communicate unpopular directives and increase the team’s commitment and delivery level. Resilient leaders remain close enough to influence and far enough to lead with conviction. 

Part of the journey to self-differentiation is for the leader to develop their thinking on the impact they want to deliver, their values, expectations, and critical results, including what is open for negotiation and what is not. Communicating at this level of clarity will help the team to manage the demands more effectively while keeping the anxiety on the system at bay. The most effective leaders will communicate their thinking while remaining flexible enough to listen to the thoughts of others without becoming defensive. 

When you proactively manage your capacity, you become more sensitive about your team’s workload. It also allows you to delegate more effectively, obtaining commitments from your team. It also helps you manage others’ expectations, including your manager, on how much is on your plate. 

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