I’ve been known to have been a leader who has really high expectations. I’m not easily impressed or satisfied. I’m not saying I’m right… well, I’m usually right, but it’s who I am. This might sound like I would be hard to work for. I also don’t believe that is true. As you can see, my self-insight scores must be off the chart!
Don’t we really only have two kinds of expectations when it comes to most leaders?
1. Low Expectations. Often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t try real hard; expect the worse to happen. Wow, it often comes true! Crazy how that works.
2. High Expectations. Set the bar high, keep raising it and often you’ll get higher results. You’ll also, eventually, get inevitable disappointment, which often feels like failure when you don’t reach lofting, rising expectations.
These two things usually work together: New leader sets really high expectations, then get’s shot down, feels failure, and tries the opposite route of under-promising and over-delivering. Or the leader goes all low expectation to begin with and gets their butt handed to them, and they go right ditch, left ditch and come out with expectations so high they’re sure to fail!
What if we didn’t put any expectations on ourselves?
– Work as hard as you can. No, really… as hard as you can.
– Accept that result.
– Try again.
It doesn’t sound like leadership as we know it, does it?
“Tim, you don’t get it, we need to set expectations so these employees will work to meet those expectations. If we gave them no expectations they wouldn’t do anything.”
This is how my inner dialogue works: I call myself “Tim” because I’ve never really found another name I felt fit better. What if we gave no expectations, but hired people who were just as passionate about our vision as we were and just let them go do it? No expectations. Just desire, set free.
There’s a risk. If you don’t set expectations, even low expectations, you leave yourself open to accepting what someone is going to do. Setting expectations is the hardest thing you’ll ever do as a leader because too high or too low always have negative outcomes. I know many of you are high performers and want to argue, “What’s the negative outcome of high expectations?!” Losing good employees who get burned out from being pushed constantly. Which might be your actual employee model, but if it’s not, it’s a negative outcome for certain! Short-term, high expectations, most likely, will give you higher results, but long term you set yourself up for some big falls. Low expectations is always a set up for disaster.
Having those just right in-the-middle expectations are next to impossible to do. So, let’s try none. No expectations. As a leader I’m not putting any expectations on you, just do what we hired you to do. Puts a lot of pressure on hiring decisions, doesn’t it!? From the moment you become a leader, you are conditioned and trained to not trust those who report to you will do what they’re supposed to do. You’re trained to set expectations and follow up to ensure they are met. We don’t even question that this might be doing more harm than good.
This isn’t going to be taught by any leadership coach or told to you in any conference you go to because it’s not sexy. No one is coming on stage and going, “Hey! Stop setting expectations!” The discipline of hard work, followed by self-correction to get better, will lead to great results. It’s just a scary concept to accept and believe employees will actually do it. Trusting that someone will perform—what a strange thing to believe might work.
If you Google “Tim Sackett” you’ll find our Tim, and a truck driver chaplain. Our Tim is NOT the truck driver chaplain, although how awesome would that be if he was!? He is a prolific writer in the HR and TA space who just happens to also run an Engineering and IT contract staffing agency (HRU Technical Resources) out of Michigan. He also writes every day at his own blog, the Tim Sackett Project. Weirdly, he’s known as an expert in workplace hugging, which was kind of cool years ago, but now seems painfully creepy, but we still love him and he’s fairly harmless. Tim is also on the board of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals (ATAP), lifetime Michigan State Spartan fan, husband to a Hall of Fame wife, 3 sons, and his best friend Scout. He also wrote a book with SHRM called The Talent Fix, you can find it on Amazon.