Invitations vs. Demands

Rachel, a recently promoted department leader, nervously tapped her foot as well as her pencil while she waited for Jake to arrive in her office for their prescheduled growth conference.  She had given a lot of thought to the areas where Jake performed well and even more thought to the one in which he doesn’t… handling feedback positively from senior team members.  She’d spoken to him already about it, but he remained defensive and stubborn in his responses when others try to guide him in the current systems and protocols.  Rachel felt it was time to escalate her requests to a firm demand.

Luckily for Jake, an emergency arose on the job that day and he was needed somewhere else and asked to reschedule the meeting with Rachel for later that week.  In the meantime, I had a chance to speak with Rachel at our monthly leadership coaching call.  We spoke about her planned approach with Jake, and I realized that Rachel’s world as a manager and leader would be forever expanded with a new distinction:  Offering invitations rather delivering demands.

When we make a demand of someone, we essentially issue an ultimatum.  Do it because I said so.  Do it whether you want to or agree with it or not.  But an invitation is very, very different.  With an invitation into a new way of being, people chose of their own free will.  They either accept your invitation into a new way of behaving, thinking, performing, or accepting some coaching to grow into the new skill… or they don’t.  Either way, there is no demand.  And, there are no victims.  Only willingness or unwillingness… their choice.  They remain empowered and encourage to choose what is right and works for them.

Many managers and leaders, especially those new to the position, believe that their job is to wield a heavy sword of demands and make sure everyone on the team tows the company line or else.  Often more seasoned leaders come to the conclusion that once clear decisions have been made about our cultural standards of behavior, systems and protocols, and current areas of focus and attention, only then are we able to offer a sincere invitation to all of our team members to either join in these decisions, make themselves available for the necessary coaching to satisfy these standards in a reasonable amount of time, or to opt-out.  This could mean anything from eliminating an expectation from their job description to moving them to a new, more aligned position, to allowing them to exit the company on their own accord.

Consider inviting your team into clear systems and standards rather than demanding they conform.  Give them the respect and the real choice to adhere, adapt, or be coached to grow their skills in order to fulfill the requirement.

Rachel did and her growth conference with Jake was a huge success.  She clarified the standard and invited Jake to align with it or not.  After answering some of Jake’s questions and offering some good skills coaching, she and Jake left the conference with his acceptance of the invitation and some new skills with which to improve his communication with others.  Jake left with his self-respect and a full feeling of personal empowerment.

No one HAS to do anything.  I suggest getting those words out of your leadership vocabulary.  Instead, clarify the standard and invite them to align with it.  Let them know that you want them to be a part of this effort and you sincerely hope they will choose to align their actions with the standards but either way you will respect whatever decision they make and deem best for themselves.  Empower them to choose and respect their decision.  This is how we model good leadership.  This is how we grow empowered employees.  This is how we create a mature, positive culture where all members at “at choice.”

“Your life changes the moment you make a new, congruent, and committed decision.”

~ Tony Robbins



  1. I love this, Katherine! I’m going to save it to my notes and read it EVERY DAY! It makes so much sense and yet, is so hard to do without constant reminders. I’m always so grateful for your words of wisdom.

    1. Oh, I’m so glad you feel you can use this often. It’s made a big difference in how I approach conversations with my team, kids, parents, clients, and friends. Thanks for the kind shoutout!

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