There I was sitting in yet another meeting. The room was hot and stuffy, the content and delivery of the presentation were marginal at best, and I was about to blow my top because everything I had worked on with my team for months was being completely ignored by those in attendance. The smell of stale coffee filled the room as I watched two of my peers fall fast asleep while watching what was supposed to be an exciting and uplifting presentation. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.

Have you found yourself in a similar situation? Or perhaps in a situation where you worked hard towards a goal just to be disappointed by the outcome? If you have, you’re not alone; many supervisors struggle with this exact issue—expectations.

In my years of experience leading teams, coaching, and training leaders, I have found one thing to be true: we have unrealistic expectations. Think about it: is it unrealistic to expect your employees to show up on time? No. Is it unrealistic to expect your employees to perform their assigned duties? No. Is it unrealistic for your employees to perform at a level beyond what you have communicated? YES!

Getting back to my story. I look back at this moment 15 years later and can honestly say that I am not proud of how I handled this situation after the meeting. Let’s just say, I was less than professional with the way I handled it. Hindsight being 20/20 I can look back at myself in this moment and narrow this failure of a meeting down to one fatal flaw. It wasn’t my team’s fault, it was mine. I did not communicate my expectations. The sad part is I did not know this until after I had already destroyed my employee’s self-confidence. This awareness came at the tail end of the onslaught when my employee stated, “I had no idea you wanted me to deliver it with excitement and positivity, I thought it was just a routine PowerPoint presentation.” It was right then when I felt about as big as Wayne Szalinski from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

I expected my team member to share my excitement and vision of the presentation. I expected my team member to deliver this very important information in a way that would create buy-in, something that could only be done through a delivery that was positive and uplifting. Worst of all, I expected them to do something they were not used to: deliver a presentation. You see, this person had only delivered one presentation ever, and that was in high school. I felt even smaller.

As leaders, we must set realistic expectations. Ones that honor our team’s strengths and recognize their areas for growth. Setting realistic expectations will help build team cohesion, buy-in, and most importantly, trust.

So, what happened? Well, I immediately owned the mistake. I explained to the team how I had let them down and how I wanted the presentation to go so well that I had lost sight of what mattered most: clarifying what I wanted and why it was important. Luckily the team forgave me, and we worked together for many years to come.

Understanding that organizational effectiveness comes down to how well leaders communicate their expectations, we must ask ourselves a few questions: (1) How realistic are your expectations for your team members? (2) What have you done recently to communicate your expectations? (3) If your expectations are high for your team, how much higher are they for you?

Feel free to respond to these questions by dropping me an email and stay tuned for our next Leadership Tip on how to communicate your expectations effectively.

Founded in 1987 in Santa Rosa, California, The Personnel Perspective is a full-service HR management consulting firm specializing in human resources, leadership development and training, and recruiting. The firm’s core belief is that a company achieves organizational excellence through its people. Contact us to learn more: (707) 801-0140.