What do you expect?

Clearly formulated expectations facilitate leadership. This is because they complement goals with a personal, emotional component that promotes initiative and personal responsibility.

With extremely high regularity, in the course of an international football tournament, you will hear at least one coach say that - after the team entrusted to him has met the minimum qualifications - anything is now possible. What does he mean by that? That the pressure of expectations is now gone and the team can play freely. Everything that is achieved from now on (or not) is actually positive. In other words: Expectations stand in the way of a free, carefree pursuit of a professional activity. Strange, because it is actually the other way around. Expectations function like mental laths that have to be jumped over and therefore release creativity and focus energy.

You may now think that there are significant differences between a professional soccer player and an employee. For example, while one is in the limelight and is constantly being judged by many strangers, the other is more protected and is not concerned with winning, but with delivering a reliable performance. At first glance, this is probably true. At second glance, it seems questionable whether the continuous pressure to keep the job, to feed the family, not to make any grosser mistakes, is not at least as stressful as the (brief) fear of the penalty shootout. But what does that have to do with leadership?

There are people who expect nothing in order not to be disappointed. That may feel good on a purely personal level. But one must reproach this tactic for being evasive and not facing the questions of what would be possible and how it could be achieved. Expectations move future outcomes into the realm of possibility. They encourage creative exploration of approaches, paths or activities to make what is possible in the future just possible. As leaders, you build constant virtual bridges between today and tomorrow. And you rely on the fact that employees look for ways on their own initiative and dare to take the necessary steps on their own responsibility. You will probably now argue that concrete goals are sufficient for this. But goals are only the logical consequence of a (strategic) initiative. They show necessary steps. But this does not automatically mean that employees are ready to take them. Expectations feed this readiness, because studies show that initiative, perseverance and consistent training increase significantly when a relevant person is convinced that we will actually achieve certain results - even if they seem (still) unattainable for us. It is precisely this personal, emotional component that distinguishes expectations from goals. They influence our confidence and what we expect of ourselves. Whether you want to be this relevant person or not, as a supervisor you will not be able to shed this role. In short, you are directly responsible for whether employees jump over their shadows, rise above themselves, develop further - or not.

How you do it? Be attentive! Because expectations are usually based on previous results. You can only recognize open or new potentials if you deal with the potentials realized so far - and derive your expectations from them. Do employees lead a delicate customer meeting surprisingly confidently? This opens up an opportunity to build expectations. This has nothing to do with slavery or manipulation. It has to do with the fact that we all want to make a meaningful and valued contribution. Expectations help us achieve both. If you, as a leader, refrain from explicit expectations of employees, then you are missing out on what could be possible. And you should be able to justify this well - especially to yourself.

One might object to this idea that expectations do not work for all employees. That as a superior you should also be satisfied for once with what you have or with what has been achieved. True - as long as this satisfaction is not confused with sparing. Today’s dynamics and complexity demand that we not only get work done, but ask ourselves whether we can’t make this “getting done” smarter, faster and more effective. Our expectations do not only refer to the WHAT, but also to the HOW: A proposal for action should not only solve a customer’s problem, but also offer, for example, starting points for further cooperation with the customer. We should therefore expect this way of thinking and acting from ourselves and from others. Otherwise, we leave potential unused, miss opportunities or even miss the boat.

So: What do you expect?

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