punctuationEver notice how some leaders are seemingly more confident than others? More likely than not, the way you notice their confidence – or the lack thereof – is through the punctuation they use.

Take, for example, leaders who assign tasks as questions. “Would you do me a favor?” they’ll ask.

Really?! Would I do you a FAVOR?! Um, no! I’ll do whatever work you want me to do, but not as a FAVOR. I’ll do it because BECAUSE IT’S MY JOB!

Questions Marks and Exclamation Points

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times when a boss asking questions is, unquestionably, the right thing to do. (Hey, my job is to ask clients questions, so I get the whole Socratic thing.) But when delegating a simple task, questions are NOT the way to go.

Try this, instead: “I have an assignment for you!”

“Oh, but I don’t speak in exclamation points,” you might say. “They’re too…”

Fine. Then speak in periods.

Questions, Fearlessness, and Courageousness

Asking questions when statements are more in order is an indicator of fear. Consider the related negative self-talk:

  • “What if they won’t do what I say?”
  • “What if they don’t respect me?”
  • “They don’t respect me, do they?”
  • “What if this new request sends them over the edge?”
  • “Better if I ask nicely, right?”

But make no mistake: It’s your job, as a leader, to assign people work.

And it’s their job, in large part, to demonstrate to you, their boss, that they can do their job (including “other duties, as defined”) competently and pleasantly.

Own Your Authority!

A variation of the fear that results in phrasing requests as questions has to do with not owning your authority.

  • “Who am I to be telling them what to do?”
  • “What if they go over my head to complain?”
  • “Why am I so afraid of the people who report to me?”

So, who are you to be telling them what to do? You’re their supervisor and it’s your job to tell them what to do. Politely. Respectfully. Always.

And what if they go over your head to complain? Well, it’s your job to be able to explain the business justification for each and every one of your requests – early and often. If you do that, and do so with the appropriate tone, as per above, you’ve got nothing to worry about. (You may be overridden, sometimes, but should that happen it will likely be less about you than some larger business issue you didn’t know about or didn’t consider as fully as you might have.)

As for why you might be so afraid of the people who report to you, here’s the thing: Leadership is not about being fearless – it’s about being courageous – and modeling courageousness for your staff – in the face of fear! (You can quote me on that.)

So what can you do to increase your courageousness?

Well, for starters, one thing you can certainly do is break the habit of trying to soften your requests with question marks.

You know what I mean?!

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