CEO Coaching: Expectations

I had an interesting conversation about expectations with a thoughtful CEO whom I work with. I’ve had similar conversations with many. Clients often ask, “Shouldn’t I be able to expect ____?” In other words, should a leader be able to expect certain behaviors from his team members without clearly stating the expectation? 

The short answer is most often no.

On the tactical front, if I expect you to be in the office at 7 a.m. and you show up at 9, I might be frustrated but also may not understand that you’re a night owl or have kids to get to school. A conversation would’ve unearthed this and allowed you to reach accommodation. (I believe you should worry more about the quality of your coworker’s work and less about what time they do it.)

On a more nuanced front, if I expect your creative work to always meet my expectations and it doesn’t, we probably have different standards, perspectives, or ways of viewing the world. If the objective is clear and there are myriad ways of accomplishing it, why would my way be better than yours? Perhaps refocusing on the objectives would help (or perhaps I could reflect on my need to control!).

Even what we might call “professional standards” are different by company, ethnic background, and geography. Make the standards explicit rather than get frustrated when your expectations aren’t met.

Here’s the rub.… When you must continually tell someone how to do something (not what, but how), either that person has some incompetence or your need to control is high and perhaps unnecessary. George Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

Taken to an even higher level, I ask, “Do you have a culture that supports your expectations?” 

Every company (which is just a group of people) has a different culture, either by design or  default, and it reflects top leadership. Culture is just the net result of the many behaviors that you reward or allow. 

Here are some questions to ponder if your expectations are frequently not met:

·      How would you define your culture? 

·      More important, how would your coworkers define your culture? 

·      Have you made your expectations explicit, or do you expect people to guess?

·      If you’re only disappointed by one or two people, are they the right people? What have you done to redirect them?

·      Are you an inspirational leader? Do you have a stated purpose? How well do you communicate what you’re trying to accomplish and with how much energy and passion? (Most CEOs err on the side of too little communication.)

The next time you think, “Shouldn’t I be able to expect ____?” review the questions above. You might be part of the problem.

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