Originally published nearly 40 years ago, What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff (now in its fifth edition) is the best-selling book on pregnancy of all time. As a man, I don’t know what’s different about being pregnant now than 40 years ago (and I’m not going to read the first and fifth editions to find out), but I don’t argue that more information is available now than then.
I can almost hear you thinking: What the hell does being pregnant have to do with leadership??
Nothing… except there’s not much difference between leading people today and leading them 40 (or 400 or 4,000) years ago. There’s just more information about it now.
As it was in the beginning, expectations – setting clear ones, communicating them, understanding them, and managing them – are one of the biggest challenges leaders face today.
I’m writing about expectations because last week a CEO I know – and most of the senior leadership team – was fired by the board for not dealing with some toxic interpersonal conflict among the senior team. The board expected the CEO to deal with it in a more timely manner, and that wasn’t happening.
Had the board communicated their expectation to the CEO? No. Did the CEO know there would be dire consequences for failing to meet the board’s expectation (that she didn’t know about)? Obviously not. So now you have a company that’s been decapitated and will struggle to survive.
Several years ago I worked with a company where the COO was frustrated with a senior director because she wasn’t managing her department like he expected. During feedback sessions, he would tell her to “manage your department.” She thought she was managing her department and didn’t understand his frustration.
How’s that for setting and communicating clear expectations?
If you assign someone a role without clearly setting and communicating your expectations – and the consequences for not meeting them, you’re setting them up for failure and yourself up for frustration.
On the flipside, if you accept a role without clearly understanding the expectations, you’re setting yourself up for both frustration and failure.
As a refresher, here’s few tips for setting expectations:
- Set them early in the relationship – both performance and behavior
- Make sure they’re realistic, attainable, and measurable.
- Ensure they’re clearly communicated and understood.
- Review them regularly (aka feedback) and be willing to revise them if necessary.
Clearly communicating your expectations as a leader has a number of benefits for your team, and Google can provide you with about a hundred million ways and whys. Not clearly communicating them always leads to miscommunication and usually results in low employee satisfaction and engagement.
One of the most important benefits of clearly set expectations (in my humble but educated opinion) is that it significantly reduces the amount of “am I doing this right” anxiety produced in an ambiguous environment. We all want to do the right thing correctly, but that’s really hard to do when we don’t know what’s expected of us.
Setting, communicating, and regularly reviewing expectations isn’t particularly difficult, but it has to be an intentional behavior for an effective leader. Like most of leadership, it’s a skill that can be learned and needs to be practiced.
If I’m not striking a chord with you, that must mean you’re already good at it. Chances are there are others in your organization that aren’t. How about helping them develop the skill.
That’s what leaders do.
It’s up to you.