Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
You have probably heard the phrase “you should manage projects but lead people.” It reinforced that people want to be led and empowered without having to be managed as a resource to be “optimized” like they are a piece of production equipment.
I am a firm believer in this philosophy and have been blessed to grow up in a company that put more emphasis in developing the soft skills that focus on leading and relationships then on the hard skills of management execution. What has become apparent in my 29 years at this company is that it isn’t either / or as you must have both skills to reach your true potential.
Recently, I found that as I was engaging a variety of people across a broad spectrum on topics of leadership and challenges, a thread appeared that would always bring the conversation back to the principle of “manage projects, lead people.” If people were sharing challenges, it would typically come back to a leader stumbling in one or both of those areas and in contrast when people shared success stories, both of those had been achieved.
As I would engage in more questions and discussion, I changed the principle from “projects” to “expectations” as that really seemed to be at the heart of the matter. Whether it was about projects, strategic planning, sports teams, or family drama it always seemed to come back to a mismatch of expectations. It’s not that people necessarily lack a skill or don’t know what is needed for a project to be successful, but it is either unclear expectations or unstated expectations that seem to cause the conflicts or misalignment. People moving to the beat of their own drum were causing things to be out of rhythm.
If you can manage expectations effectively, then even if you struggle to lead people you can still make progress. If you don’t manage expectations but are an effective leader, then you might be able to lead people down a path even though they are not sure why they are traveling the path. But in either scenario, it’s going to take a lot more work to be successful.
From my experiences and discussions with others, I pulled together some common reasons why leaders fail to effectively manage expectations:
THEY DON’T KNOW
The manager may not have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. Just because a person is in a management role, doesn't mean they have all the answers. In an effort to avoid looking stupid, they set a goal or a metric on something that they do understand. But many times, we confuse the goal with the process.
The manager may be seeing things through their own lens and don’t grasp the bigger picture because they view things from their position. The expectations they describe fit into their own view of performance and definition of success, but it misses the mark on the direction the company is traveling.
Sometimes, they don’t want to rock the boat, or they don’t feel that the expectation will be well received by their team. It may be a lack of confidence or fear of political backlash. But either way, they find it easier and possibly safer to avoid it and instead choose to set lesser expectations.
DEFEND THE CASTLE
Many times, when people feel a push to change expectations, they move into a defensive posture and try to protect their position and deflect what they perceive as an attack on them. By changing expectations, they feel that what they have been doing is wrong and reflects poorly on them as a leader. They reinforce their silo instead of viewing this as an opportunity to pivot and move forward.
As a leader, you must be able to manage expectations of your team as well as their relationship outside of your immediate organization. Clear expectations that can be supported and executed will help your team feel engaged and empowered. Managing expectations in this way will help you lead people Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.