How Leaders Set Expectations

by Wayne Sharer

International speaker, author, and entrepreneur. Retired navy officer, former commanding officer. Over 35 years of leading, coaching, mentoring, and speaking.

September 11, 2018

Many may find this a complex question: “How should a leader set expectations for the team, organization or company?”

I don’t find this complex at all. In fact, I find it easy. Maybe only because I lived the life of a leader and view things different than managers or those that remain satisfied being led.

Nonetheless, here’s the answer…

People do what people see you do.

Translated another way, you as the leader must be front and center. The way you go and show is the way your team, organization or company will go.

Your team will see what you do and how you perform, and they will talk about it and spread it around. Regardless of what you say, your team will strive only to do as you do.

They take their expectations from how they see you perform and hear you do. If your words match your performance, their will strive to match you. A few hard charging folks will even strive to beat you.

Examples of Setting Expectations with Performance

This is a simple example. But it is what your team will do. Do you come to work on time? If you do, your team knows your expectations include coming to work on time. There will be fewer people being randomly late if you come to work on time.

Do you meet your deadlines or provide review in a timely manner so others can meet their deadlines? If you do, you will have more deadlines met, and less trouble getting your changes implemented if you perform to the standard you demand.

Do you demand attention when you speak, or do you give attention when others speak? If you don’t, then expect the same from your team.

Do you willingly stay late to make deadlines without blaming others and complaining? If you do, your team will so much more willingly than if you don’t.

Dealing with Those Not Meeting the Expectations

Naturally certain individuals don’t respond as well as others. You can never eliminate all those that just won’t meet expectations, regardless of how well you perform. But when you challenge them or discipline them, you get a lot less mouthing off because they do know what you expect. They observed it just like the rest of team or company.

Setting expectations for the team you lead is all about what your team, company or organization see you do.

For those that simply don’t meet expectations, you may have to counsel them. If you truly live the expectations you want from your team, the counseling really requires you find out what the expectations of the person underperforming. You can be certain they already know what you expect.

Thus leadership sometimes requires you not just set expectations, but to uncover others expectations so a means to lift them up can be found. Sometimes a person truly won’t respond. They will have to go.

Yet, the bottom line remains that how leaders set expectations is doing and living what they expect from those they lead.

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