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The Massive Impact of Expectations on Success

The success of most relationships is all about managing expectations. This includes professional and personal relationships. (The same applies for the goals of your organization – perceptions of success are attached to managing expectations).

Why are expectations so important? Because humans have a natural tendency to attach their terms of happiness to fulfilled expectations. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself – but there are two more conditions. It’s not wrong as long as we (1) have a reason to believe that fulfilling an expectation will make us happy, and (2) we take the necessary steps toward fulfilling those expectations.

Here’s a simple example:

I enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning. It brings me joy and happiness. I expect a cup of coffee to make me happy, and I have a reason to do so, because it has in the past (condition 1). I am also intentional about buying nice beans, I own a nice coffee maker, and I take the steps to make a cup (fill water, grind beans, push buttons, etc) (condition 2).

Believing that our expectations alone would bring us what we want, would be delusional – as though condition 1 and 2 were not required. It’s obvious when we talk about coffee – I can’t just expect a cup of coffee/happiness to “poof” into existence, I have to take the necessary steps to make it.

But for whatever reason, it is less obvious to us when our expectations involve people (our teams). If we can agree that it is unrealistic to think a cup of coffee will just materialize and make us happy – why do most of us make the mistake of believing that just expecting  our teams to behave the way we want will actually make them behave that way? (“poof”).

When we attach our terms of happiness to the expectation that other people will behave the way we want, simply because we asked them to, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Consider this:

  • Ever delegate the build of a power point deck to someone else, only to receive something that you would consider mediocre?
  • Ever have your team miss a deadline because they couldn’t get a hold of a client for decisions, come to find the team only tried reaching the client via email?
  • Ever budget for your employees to complete a team development training online, and when the quarter ends only half of them have completed it?

Expecting life (and people) to always meet your terms of happiness is guaranteed to lead to disappointment, because things happen and people have their own agendas. Disappointment leads to resentment, and a leader with resentment is not a leader who will shape a high-performing team.

Why is it that we don’t get upset when a cup of coffee does not make itself, but we might get upset if someone else does not make us a cup of coffee? Where do we get the sense of power to think that merely expecting others to behave the way we want them to will make them behave that way?

(Psychology Today)

Noodle on this:

  1. First, many people unintentionally set their expectations without actually verbalizing them (as though they are implicit). You budgeted for the course, so obviously your team will take it, and everyone will get along better (which will make you happy)…right?… Remember that unspoken expectations are almost guaranteed to go unfulfilled.
  2. Secondly, we need to understand that it is unrealistic to think that solely stating our expectations is going to get people to do what we want. This is a relationship based on authority rather than the mutual reciprocity. People have a natural tendency to do what is in their best interest (this is related to our deep seeded survival instincts). So expecting others to do what is in your interest (but not their interest) is unrealistic. Expecting people to do what is in both of your interests is more realistic.

Setting more effective expectations will lead you to shape a high-performing team because everyone will be rowing in the same direction. Start by revisiting the goals and plans you and your leadership teams set for 2023.

  • Are the goals realistic for the timeframe you set them in?
  • Are any of the expectations around them inflated?
  • Will your team be trying to meet expectations that only live in your head?
  • Have any of leadership’s expectations been set on the “because I asked them to” method?

QUESTION > What will you do to better manage expectations this year, and see more success and happiness?

I often help overworked leaders who don’t understand why the outcomes they see never quite match their goals or expectations. I have space for one more Organizational Performance Audit in January to help uncover why it might feel that way for you. If that situation sounds all too familiar, then book a discovery call and we can see if an Org Audit is the right move for you.


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