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  • Writer's pictureDr. Christine Senn, PhD

Leadership: The Importance of Setting Expectations

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

People are not mind readers. What I have experienced as a psychotherapist (and from attending a few operas) is that misunderstandings can be devastating. How many fights have you had with a partner because of a misunderstanding? As an example, perhaps my definition of being on time for a date is that you arrive exactly at the time we discussed, but your definition is that you arrive no more than 20 minutes late. There’s going to be a fight! This isn’t going to work out for us because we have different expectations.

I see managers make this error when they assume their employees are like them. I also see this error when managers have forgotten what it was like to learn their jobs. Managers have to constantly set reasonable expectations, coach their people on how to meet those expectations, and (as much as possible) ensure their people’s success. It’s a linear process comprised of setting up one’s employee for many small successes as a way to foster their sense of confidence. A leader’s role is a bit different. We do have to set expectations for anyone we manage, but I see a leader as being more of a mentor.

  • A mentor gives very specific feedback on something done well, as a way of reinforcing that behavior.

  • A mentor also gives very specific feedback on something that didn’t go well, but with no malice or negative implications, just a learning opportunity.

  • Mentors open themselves to being asked any question about anything in the company.

  • When they don’t know the answer to a question, mentors use the opportunity to teach employees how to find the solution. A mentor is in the business of directing people to resources, rather than giving them answers.

  • A mentor also demonstrates the company’s values in everything he or she does. I strongly foster the value of Accountability, for example. That’s means that, first and foremost, I must hold myself accountable before I can hold anyone else accountable.

  • A mentor is also someone who shows people a vision of what is possible. The vision I offer, for example, is what great customer service looks like. It looks like developing strategies to help our clients be more successful. It looks like responding to our clients with grace and thoroughness. It looks like having a team of specialists who work together to ensure the highest quality. It looks like collaborative teamwork that far surpasses anything you’d see on a motivational poster.

Every manager and every employee has his or her own vision. My opinion is that a leader’s job is to not leave those visions to chance. Help people see the vision you want them to see, and show them that you embrace the greatness you want them to achieve.

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