Listening Intelligence Blog

Leadership vs Management- Communication in the Workplace

Leadership vs Management: Communication in the Workplace

Posted by Allison O'Brien on May 22, 2019 2:03:18 PM
Allison O'Brien

As a leader, are you ever disappointed in your team?  How we make requests of others can predict their success or failure.

Mary was consistently a top performer in her company. For over a year she was recognized by her manager as one of the most valuable members of the team. When she received a promotion 6 months ago, she couldn't have been more thrilled. However, she is now managing a team of people that used to be her peers, and the transition to a leadership role has been disappointing, both in her personal performance and that of the team.

Unfortunately, Mary’s experience is all too common. She was promoted into a management role because she was incredibly successful as an individual contributor. Naturally, her manager assumed that she would be just as successful mentoring and developing others. However, we know that individual success doesn’t necessarily translate into leadership capability. More often than not, management skills need to be cultivated in order to produce the greatest outcomes. The good news is… despite the fact that leadership skills don’t come naturally and aren’t intuitive, they can absolutely be learned.

One of the greatest struggles both new and experienced managers face is how to set others up for success and meet performance expectations. So often, people new to leadership roles are disappointed in the team’s actions and execution.

A very simple tool used to enhance outcomes is to set up systems of accountability through clearly communicated requests and agreements.

For a new manager that is now responsible for the performance of co-workers that used to be peers, it can be intensely challenging to make requests and then hold others accountable. We like these people, we trust them, we don’t want to be patronizing and we certainly don’t want them to think we are taking advantage of our new position of authority.

When new managers are disappointed by performance that wasn’t what they believed it could or should be, it often turns out that they were operating with expectations, rather than having agreements in place.

If we look to Webster’s for a definition, an expectation is a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen, whereas an agreement is the act of coming to a mutual arrangement.

So the question becomes, how can new leaders improve performance, create agreements and then hold people accountable to their commitments? The answer lies in how they make requests of people.


Making a request that results in an Agreement is a three-pronged approach.

  1. Engage- Share the “Why” to engage the team member in the objective and what is behind the request. What is the purpose of what I’m asking you to do?
  2. Clarify- Specify deliverables. Clearly identify what is expected and most importantly, when you need it.
  3. Close- Get an answer of Yes, No or a Counter-offer.

Typically we would ask, “I would like for us to meet next week. Can you let me know what time works for you?”

In terms of creating accountability, a better approach would be to share the purpose first.


“We are coming up against an important deadline with the X account. It’s critical that we meet the deadline because the (blank) department can only move forward when our work is complete. I would like to meet with you to review what items are still outstanding and what needs to be done to meet the deadline.”

Make the request with specific deliverables that can be measured.


“Can you email me by the close of business today with three options for times you’re available to meet next week?”

The final step is closing the request. Without the Close, you have nothing more than an expectation. Accountability results from mutual arrangement, not simply the assignment of a task. When you make a request, your team members should have the right and privilege to answer either Yes, No or Counter-offer based on their circumstances.

In our above example, a “Yes” means that they
will have sent the requested email by the close of business.

A “No” could be an inability to commit in the moment. Perhaps they don’t work on that account and don’t have the level of expertise to contribute value.

The counter-offer is an underutilized tool in creating agreements and setting up accountability. Most people will instinctively answer “Yes” when asked to do something by someone in authority. They rarely consider their actual circumstances and whether or not they can fulfill the request. They say “Yes” with the intention to figure it out later.

In this case, a strong counter-offer might be,

“Based on my work load, I can’t commit to the end of the day, but I can send you an email with three options by noon tomorrow. Would that work for you?”


You have an agreement in place if the answer is “Yes” to the Counter-offer. Note that you don’t have an agreement in place until you have a mutual arrangement. Both parties ultimately need to agree with a Yes.

What does this mean in the end? As a new or experienced manager, if we are consistently disappointed in the performance of our team, we have to look inward and ask ourselves,

“What is my responsibility in this? Am I making requests in a way that allows others to be successful? Do I have agreements in place or am I disappointed because of an expectation that wasn’t clearly communicated?”

An honest answer to that question may just be what it takes to turn the team around.

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Topics: Listening for Business, Leadership