Expectations can be very tricky. Expectations can be motivating; they can be discouraging; they can be healthy; they can be manipulative. As a leader, you have many expectations of yourself and of others. How do you know when those expectations are good and when they are bad? What can you do to keep your expectations in check to make sure they contribute to your quality of life and work rather than undermine it?
First, it helps to recognize that every day, every waking moment, is filled with constant expectations:
- You expect the alarm clock to work.
- You expect the shower, and water heater, to work.
- You expect the coffee maker, refrigerator, and stove to be working as you prepare breakfast.
- You expect your car to work, or for the bus to arrive on time.
- You expect the office to be where it was when you left work yesterday.
- You expect your computer to work.
You get the idea. Every moment of every day is filled with expectations.
The expectations I noted above are fairly innocuous, reasonable expectations. In a stable, civil, and developed society (What a blessing that is!), these are normal things of life. What about other kinds of expectations?
What about the expectations you have for yourself?
- An expectation to lose 30 lbs this summer.
- An expectation to land that new account today.
- An expectation to train for and run in a marathon this year.
- An expectation to finish remodeling the house this weekend.
- An expectation to stop being dismissive and rude when that person walks into your office.
Are these expectations normal? Are they reasonable? I don’t know. The answer is different for every person.
For me, losing 30 lbs would be unhealthy. I’m already at my ideal weight. Landing a new account? Yes, it would be a good idea to secure some new clients. Train for and run in a marathon? Nope. That would be a bad idea given the other commitments I have. Finish the remodeling? That would be a GREAT idea, but it’s not going to happen in one weekend. Stop being rude to that person? Yes. I do need to fix that.
Your answers to the same questions could be totally different. The key is self-awareness. You need to have a realistic picture of your self and of your situation. Without this, it is impossible to set reasonable expectations.
How about the expectations you have for others? This is where expectations can get dangerous.
- Expectations that others will always treat you with respect.
- Expectations that your team will read your mood as you walk in the door and adjust their interaction with you accordingly.
- Expectations that your key leaders will just get the job done without you having to hover and pester them.
- Expectations that phone calls and emails will be returned promptly, without follow up phone calls and more emails.
- Expectations that your boss will always tell you everything you must know to get the job done.
- Expectations that your airplane seat mate will respect your fair use of the armrest.
Are these reasonable? Again, I don’t know. Perhaps some of them are, but here is the problem: You cannot control what other people do. There is only one person’s behavior and attitude that you can control. Yours.
Granted, most of the expectations I noted above are slanted to the negative, but I wanted to illustrate a point and I think most of us can identify with having had most of those expectations at one time or another. Some expectations of others are very healthy:
- Expecting that employees will indeed fulfil the work responsibilities they have been assigned to do.
- Expecting that people (in the office, at home, at church, and elsewhere), treat each other with respect and fairness.
- Expecting that people are honest and follow through with commitments
We could develop a long list of healthy expectations of others.
The distinction here is healthy vs. unhealthy expectations. We need to carefully assess our expectations and get rid of the unhealthy ones, but that can be very hard to do. When unhealthy expectations become, over several years, ingrained in personal value systems, they are harder to discern as unhealthy. This is where the wise counsel of a close friend or a coach can be helpful.
Even with healthy expectations, though, there is potential for danger. When we allow healthy expectations for others to become more important than healthy expectations for ourselves we create a prison for others and we put ourselves in the role of jailkeeper.
Be careful with your expectations of others: Free them from the world that you have created for them, that they don’t even live in.