Great expectations.

Leadership Blog  |  4 minute read

Emily Wright

Written by Emily Wright

Great expectations.

Expectations. We all have them and when we don’t take care of them we're at risk of damaging relationships and impacting intended results. But what is the best way to ‘surface’ them and how can we share them in a way which satisfies business needs and those of an individual.


A deeper dive

Have you ever been in a meeting, perhaps one moving forward a project and someone pipes up ‘oh, I didn’t think we were going to approach it like that…’ or ‘I thought your role was to...’. These moments are when you see that people’s expectations are not aligned and it’s an opportunity to bring these into alignment. 


Let’s look at expectations first though. Our expectations are built on a set of assumptions. These assumptions are grounded in the environment or context we are working in. Some of these are clearly laid out in job descriptions, project methodologies, RACI’s etc. But these systems and processes can never account for personal assumptions, those we have in the background based on our values, beliefs and behaviours, the different experiences we have all had.


Imagine you board a train, expecting the journey to take an hour, according to the train schedule. Due to unforeseen issues your train arrives an hour late – what’s going through your mind?


In the similar scenario, your board the train for a 3hr journey, and the journey amazingly arrives early into your destination, after only 2hrs. They are both 2hr journeys, but your expectations around that journey…translated into a certain reaction.


A simple example, but it illuminates how we can get better at understanding our own expectations and not holding them so tightly, leading to frustration and upset. Expectations can be quite solid ‘things’ – we see them mostly when things don’t go to plan and then our thinking gets quite fixed. And then…the emotions kick in!


On further examination

All ‘Expectations’ are not the same….and need to be treated differently. Firstly, the overtones. These are expectations which we openly talk about at work. PDR expectations, project outcomes and roles, knowing what’s going to come out of a meeting etc. There are structures for managing them and normally we are pretty good at those. Yet, still we go to meetings, not setting intentions or declaring expectations. We just hope it will all turn out the way it should. As they say, ‘hope is not a course of action’!


There is nothing worse than sitting in a meeting with unhelpful thoughts like – ‘I’m not adding any value’, ‘what’s the point!’. So here is an opportunity to manage your own expectations and establish intentions before accepting the invite.


And never miss an opportunity to explore what other people’s expectations are in a situation. It’s a chance to open things up versus control the discussion.


Secondly, those tricky hidden expectations. These are the ones which we are more wedded to personally, and when they go unmet…can be really detrimental. Often, these are the ones which lie in our subconscious and spring up when we hit a set-back. In our Breakthrough Thinking methodology we call these ‘unfulfilled expectations’. And when we realise we have them about something...then we get to use the explosive emotions. Anger, upset…a significant degree of right/wrong thinking kicks in.


The antidote

This is where the leadership skill of listening is invaluable. When faced with someone’s unfulfilled expectations it’s time for the responsible leader to stop, listen, acknowledge and define the way forward. You want to understand what requests they have underneath these expectations – what are they asking for and can you respond committedly?


So, the next time someone raises their voice and indicates that something didn’t meet with their expectations – treat it as an opportunity for discovery and be curious. This way we are committed to building relationships and improving the quality of what we’re up to.


When we can open up beyond our expectations and treat them like a guiding light versus ‘the rules’…. then other possibilities have room to show up.