Communicating expectations

communicate expectationsThere are four steps that successful leaders take in communicating expectations:

Write them out – Clearly define your expectations

Hand them out – Overtly explain your expectations

Point them out – Verbally reinforce your expectations

Live them out – Openly demonstrate your expectations

Imagine you start a new job.  You are anxious to hear communication from the top; what is the vision of company?  The head of your division steps up to the front of the room, clears his throat and says, “You are all doing a great job, keep it up.  If you need me I will be in my office.”

Do you have any idea what is expected of you?  What will you do first? How will you know if you are on the right track for success? Was there any communication at all?

Now imagine you are a rookie wide receiver on the 1980 San Francisco 49ers.  In walks Bill Walsh, the head coach, who hands you a playbook and the first twenty-five plays of the next game fully scripted.  He also hands out something called his “Standards of Performance” which lists requirements for your job such as: a commitment to learning and teaching, self-control under pressure, a positive attitude, and continuous improvement.

You read the playbook and your handouts overnight to prepare for your first day of practice.  Later in the week you are surprised when Bill Walsh himself runs over in the middle of a drill to correct your squad and the assistant coach.  He fully explains the route you were supposed to run and why it is important that it be carried out just as it was scripted. 

Now that was leadership communication.  You were given written communication that described exactly what was expected.  This was followed up by verbal communication to reinforce expectations.

Theodore Hesburgh said, “The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Leaders shouldn’t expect their teams to achieve unseen and unheard expectations.  

Now let’s examine the last step, the one where the best leaders spend most of their time – how to demonstrate your expectations. This one is a very quick discussion.

Leaders must realize that their team will do what the leader says until the leader doesn’t do what the leader says.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described the last step like this, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

4 Responses to Communicating expectations
  1. John Griffin

    Positive, positive, positive. If there was only one word…that’s it. Leadership is about believing in yourself and your team with a ‘yes we can’ approach, to quote a famous man.

    • Denis G. McLaughlin

      John I agree. I have heard it said that the Leader is the Chief Cheerleader.

  2. Keith Weitz

    A very timely article for me as I take on a new leadership role. After reading the article I started thinking about my new employee in boarding, and intend to include written expectations in the on boarding package in the future.

    Thanks for the article Denis.

  3. Denis G. McLaughlin

    Keith, congratulations on your expanded role. I am glad you found value in this post. There is a saying that “If it isn’t written it isn’t done.” Unclear expectations are a de-railer. Good luck as you advance your career.