Leadership and the Remarkably High Cost of Low Expectations

Your standard as a leader is not what you believe to be your standard. Instead, your standard is what you allow, what you accept, what occurs without your objection or consequences. Over time, you can be lulled into expecting less from the people you lead. The result of low expectations is not reaching your full potential and not helping others achieve theirs.

Expecting Too Little

While this post isn’t about sales, there may not be a better example than a sales floor with an activity quota. The leader of the team requires forty outbound calls a day, even though most of the calls result in a voice mail. Although anyone is capable of making five calls an hour, the average number of calls ends up being something like thirty-two calls, with a few reps making more, and others making so few calls as to pull down the average.

Assume the leader is thoughtful and cares about the outcomes of those calls as much or more than they care about the activity. The standard is not really forty outbound calls. The real standard is what the leader allows, not what the leader suggests. When there is no accountability or consequences, you do not have a standard; you have what amounts to “suggestions.”

When you allow your expectations to chase the average performance you can achieve, you both expect and receive something less than the best performance of the people in your charge are capable of producing.

Seeing Too Little

The best leader you ever had believed you were something more than you recognized and pushed you to become that person. They didn’t coddle you or accept something less than your best performance. They weren’t apathetic about your effort, and they didn’t neglect you. Instead, they coached and encouraged you.

Most people already underestimate their real potential. They don’t recognize their gifts and their capacities, and many (most) haven’t had the experience of working for someone who cares enough about them to see something in them that they can’t see themselves, or something they can see but haven’t had the courage to become.

As a leader, your results are not only limited by your expectations, but also by the limit of your ability to help people grow and improve their capacities to generate results. What you see in each individual is the performance you can expect from them. If you want to see something different, you have to help them see what they might become.

Believing Too Little

There is a word that you don’t hear enough in business. Perhaps it isn’t heard much outside of business anymore. The word is “encouragement.” The word “encourage” means to support and provide confidence. Without researching the word’s etymology, it isn’t difficult to recognize the idea of providing someone with the courage to act.

Most people have no idea what they are capable of, and many (if not most) haven’t been encouraged to become something more than they are now. Most don’t possess enough belief in themselves and are not helped by leaders who don’t have a greater belief in them they have in themselves. Accepting and allowing people to turn in mediocre or poor results because you believe that is all they are capable of is to hold too little belief in them.

As a leader, it’s difficult to accept that the person who didn’t perform for you thrives under another leader. The person did not change, nor did their role. The expectations of the person changed when their leader changed.

Pushing Too Little

The person who cares about you will push you to become the better version of yourself that is presently locked up inside you. They will continuously remind you that you are not doing the work, not putting forth the necessary effort and that you are capable of more. They won’t accept anything less than your best, and they’ll keep pushing until you succeed.

There are many reasons we fail to push people for their best performance. First, it takes a lot of time and energy. Second, it means having the same conversation over and over again without seeing much of an improvement, if any. Third, it’s easy to be busy with other things, none of which are likely to outweigh developing your people and improving your overall results. But mostly, we may not push because we didn’t have a model of how to drive performance and because we don’t believe it will make a difference (i.e., we see too little, and we believe too little).

A considerable measure of your results as a leader is going to come from your ability to encourage the best possible performance from the people on your team. You have to see, believe, and push for their growth and their performance.

Failing Those in Your Charge

If there is a way to fail your people, allowing them to lower their standards has to top the list. You can easily rationalize lowering your expectations, something that will be debilitating to producing better results.

You can believe that it isn’t your responsibility to see something in your people they can’t see, and that it isn’t your responsibility to encourage their growth. You are paying them for their work, and you shouldn’t have to push them for their best results. To hold these beliefs is to fail the people in your charge, and in return, you can expect them to fail you.

Raise your standards and expect more. Recognize that everyone on your team is capable of more than what they are doing now. Believe and encourage their growth, their development, and their best performance. And push them to start moving towards these things.

Filed under: Leadership

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