Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
In my last post, I distinguished the difference between managing expectations and leading people. The purpose was to highlight the critical nature of having expectations that are aligned and understood to help a leader guide and motivate their team to achieve success. I identified 4 reasons that a leader may struggle with the process of managing expectations and provided some examples. In this post, I want to share a personal experience with my youngest child that I believe speaks to the heart of this subject.
My youngest son is a dedicated basketball player. When he is shooting alone, he is focused and pushes himself in where he focuses and the types of drills he does. He chooses when he has had enough for the evening. He finishes every workout by making 10 free throws in a row. If he misses, he starts over. Ethan is probably close to a 90% free throw shooter so if he does miss, he is not happy. If he hits the rim, but it still goes in, he is equally not happy. It is easy to say, “why does that matter? A make is a make.” But even at the age of 14, Ethan understands that hitting the rim means he missed his target and if he varies off-target more the next time he hits the rim, it could bounce out. The more consistently he swishes the shot, the more control he has and the better accuracy. He is effectively managing expectations.
As his confidence grew from his workouts and playing, he chose to increase the difficulty in how he closes out his workouts. After hitting 10 free throws in a row, he then had to make 10 3-point baskets in a row before leaving the gym. This one caught me off guard because I know that even though there is no defense on you, it's much more difficult. But he surprised me and would easily finish his workouts without a miss and never more than three misses. Until one day, we spent 40 minutes trying to hit 10 in a row. He would get 8 or 9 in a row and then miss. He would go 4 for 5 multiple times in a row but he couldn’t string together 10 makes.
He was angry. He grew increasingly frustrated. I finally held on to the ball and he stared at me with fire in his eyes. I said “you may not have hit 10 in a row, but did you realize you hit 8 and 9 in a row multiple times? Do you realize that you never missed more than 2 in a row? You may not have hit 10 in a row, but you are shooting between 70-80% from 3-point range!” He fired back at me, “That is not my goal!” in a release of the frustration that had been building inside him. I firmly responded, “then you have the wrong goal.”
He quickly reflected that it isn’t about the number, it’s about the consistency. Getting hot and making 10 in a row while shooting 30% overall is a streak shooter. A streak shooter can both win and lose you games. Creating a rhythm and routine to reinforce accuracy and consistency is the key to success.
In this specific example, Ethan needed some assistance in managing his expectations. The goal he had set for himself was commendable and lofty, but when he stepped back and looked at the goal and compared that to his desired outcomes, he quickly realized that when he stopped looking at the goal as a standalone metric and instead, considered it in the context of his why and desired outcome, the misalignment was clear. He then needed assistance to “reset” the expectations he had and change his definition of success. Expectations need to be actively managed and understood so that an action plan can be created and executed to help them meet those expectations Beyond Today.
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.
Social media gets a bad rap, and it is not undeserved. People hide behind their screen spewing out opinions and hate that they would never do to a person’s face. But it is also a great avenue for people to share experiences and perspectives in an effort to help others. To build connections and provide support to people who may have felt isolated historically.
Breaking the “dumb jock” stereotype that was prevalent growing up, tech savvy coaches are jumping into social media with both feet and making an impact. Athletic coaches focus on leading their teams and building connections with their teammates. They actively share with others focusing on making the community stronger while consuming the knowledge of others and adding to their own coaching/leading toolbox.
I was reviewing some old notes that I had jotted down in my journal and found a screen capture of a tweet from @AreteHoops that was a great message for those involved in athletics but honestly, for any activities in life. That is what I love about sports and why I write - life lessons are everywhere and if you are open and willing to reflect, you can find those nuggets of wisdom where you least expect.
This specific tweet wasn’t just geared for coaches, but for the kids and parents as well. There are a lot more facets to who is on the court/field than skill or last name. It’s not an exact science so there will always be debate and complaints. Many people like to highlight the stats or for those in business the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) but that only tells a small piece of the story. People say stats don’t lie… but they do deceive!
I love to share the wisdom of Lis Wiseman that she shares in her books Multipliers and Impact Players. She talks about the difference between High Contributors and Impact Players. High Contributors do their job. They perform at a high level and are critical to the success of the team. But Impact Players do the job that needs to be done. It is the team that has the most Impact Players that will typically win the game.
So many times, Coaches get caught up in on-court coaching trying to get the immediate win instead of understanding the bigger win that exists. In the workplace, managers will focus on deadlines and their project completion and miss out on the journey towards reaching their vision. They miss out on the impact players have on the culture and the culture that is placed on the players.
6 Ways to Think About Playing Time
When you review the 6 items shared by Arete Hoops above, ask yourself those questions about your team at work. Is the “playing time” distribution correct? Would you make some substitutions if you could? Think about the teammates you have had over the years that you admired and ask how would they stack up on this list? Now, take it a step further, and reflect on how well you fit on these items? Is there a relationship for how you perform or engage others with how you feel you are being treated by your manager?
Whether on the field or in the meeting room, coaches and leaders want to win. That is how they are measured. Thankfully, in healthy organizations HOW they win is becoming increasingly important and that is what sets apart the successful programs and companies from the one-hit wonders. When you review those 6 questions, you realize that while the questions are being applied to individuals, it really isn’t about the individual at all. It’s about the team and advancing the team’s success over the individual's success because when the team wins, the individuals win as a team. Accepting and embracing that is what helps you win 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.