I was the proudest Dad in Virginia a few years ago when my (then) 25-year-old daughter Megan was awarded her Master’s degree in Higher Education. She said something that struck me as relevant to those of us who are interested in leadership (Megan was a leadership minor in college herself). After the graduation ceremony, she said something like, “You know, you and Mom talked all my life about my going to both college and grad school. There was never much discussion; it was always assumed I would do both. And now I have. It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad you expected a lot from me”.
The power of expectations
As I pondered her comment, I thought about the power of expectations, not just in parenting, but in leadership too. Her Mom and I had made that expectation clear to Megan all her life. She could have said “no, I don’t want to go to grad school, or even college”. But she didn’t, and now she’s got a great job and her career is nicely launched. And I think one reason for her success so far is the power of what her Mom and I expected of her.
Doesn’t the same thing apply to us as leaders? What happens when we set the bar high for our teams? Or ourselves? What happens when we expect a lot of people? When we refuse to settle for nothing but excellence, both in the work we do, and in the people we chose to join our team?
The answer is…
Something miraculous happens: people will often rise to the occasion. Expect a lot and you get a lot. Some call it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your employees may surprise you (and even themselves) at how well they rise to meet the expectations.
Maybe first we need to learn (or even dare) to expect a lot, both of ourselves and from our teams. Then, as part of our leadership, we need to continue to insist on the best, and not compromise those standards, even if means changing some of the employees.
Then, like with my daughter, I bet more often that not, they will meet those expectations. That’s one key way to build a truly excellent organization. Everyone wants to be part of a truly excellent organization. And leaders all want to lead one.