Does Expecting More - and Less - Help Us Achieve Our Goals?

In my earlier post, I addressed how expectations play a significant role in our lives, focusing on how they govern choices and can lead to frustration in our relationships with others and ourselves.  Now, I want to turn the lens on how latent and “unexpected” expectations lead to suboptimal performance of leaders and teams.  I want to help you learn how to expect more - and less!

We tend to harbor ideas about who we are or were “supposed” to be, what we’re best suited to do, and how others are expected to behave. I see this in everyone from graduating students who grapple with the best use for an expensive education to seasoned executives who can’t understand why their awesome idea is not adopted (or funded) or their team is not performing up to the standards they expected.

These notions are often inherited – from our parents, our community, and the stories we read. Left unexamined, they can stunt our ability to leverage our talents and live lives that are well aligned with our highest values.  At work this plays out on an even larger stage, where ideas about who does what, gets what, and says what have significant consequences that directly impact individual and institutional success.

How do we expect more – and less – in service of aligning our skills, purpose, dreams and teams? 

On the More front: 

If you are in a leadership position, tap into your feelings about your own capabilities, strengths and make an honest assessment of your team. It’s hard to effectively motivate and manage from a position of insecurity or when you are harboring significant doubts and concerns. This doesn’t mean being an egomaniac but rather urging a deep understanding of what you bring to the table and what you need to make the setting complete.  In addition to benefits for your overall performance and sense of well-being, it has real and tangible benefits for your organization.

“The best managers have confidence in themselves and in their ability to hire, develop and motivate people. Their self- confidence and success naturally generate positive expectations. Their [staff] naturally expect to succeed. [Staff] is given responsibility and their judgments are trusted. Their mistakes are accepted as part of the learning process. When such positive expectations are transmitted, people respond with energy and enthusiasm. Once happy expectations have been cultivated, the process becomes self-sustaining. The organization continues to communicate high expectations.”  (Effective Mind Control, The Power of Expectation)

You can expect more from yourself and your team when you are being truthful about what’s required to get the job done and by remaining open to learning from missteps and achievements.

On the Less front:

Don’t keep your expectations about partnerships and performance to yourself! I hear clients complain about how this person or that entity just didn’t get it or didn’t deliver.  It doesn’t take much sleuthing to discover that the culprit is often an expectation that went unidentified and unsaid.  How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, I just assumed that [he/she] would take care of it/step up to the plate/assume responsibility/handle it….”?  You can fill in the blank easily. 

Expecting less is not about lowering your standards and beliefs about capabilities, it’s about having the patience – and sometimes the courage – to get super clear about who is doing what, by when and at what level.  Most of us are not mind readers, and merely wishing something or someone to be a certain way is not only lazy, it’s a terrible strategy for getting results. This applies to managers, team members, and partnering organizations alike.

In my work as a coach and advisor, I talk a lot – and I mean a lot – about aligning expectations. It can start with the classic consultant’s opening question, “What does success look like?” – and continue from there.  What are the roles and responsibilities of everyone in the organization?  Is this information shared (and is there an acknowledged understanding)?  Do we all know what “destination” we’re driving towards?  What are the resources required to get there, and how will we get them?  What is our core capability, key differentiator and mission? What do we expect, not just from each other, but also from our board/clients/constituents/partners/funders?  How well are these formulated and communicated?  Do we agree?  These are often the juiciest conversations, as they unearth incredibly important thoughts and feelings about values and value.  They are definitional and relate to the DNA of any and every organization.

Leaders who successfully enroll key constituents in their vision by addressing these questions increase the chance that the shared understanding of who “we” are will result in a beautiful and sustainable reality.  You, and your team, should expect no less!

The themes explored above and in the companion piece boil down to a couple of simple, but crucial, concepts: 

  • You have the power to design your life in a way that aligns with your highest values. 
  • You have the responsibility to communicate your expectations to those close to you. 
  • And, you have the opportunity to explore the possibilities generated when you live and work with intention, clarity and a generous spirit.
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