Clear Expectations for Leaders


Clear Expectations for Leaders

A Guide to Setting Clear Expectations

Tonya was incredulous. She couldn’t believe her team kept falling short of her expectations.

“They should know this! I know it — they should, too.”

But instead of improving her team’s performance, Tonya kept answering the same questions over and over again.

Shawn found the same challenge.

No matter how hard he worked to increase revenue, he could never get the team to understand his expectations for their performance.

As VP of HR, Jack sat down with a team member who had recently been let go due to lack of performance.

“I see here your supervisor says you consistently failed to meet the expectations of the role,” Jack said to the employee. “What would have helped you meet expectations?”

The employee replied, “I never knew what I was supposed to do. Every day, it changed. And I never fully understood the instructions from my supervisor.”“How can I be successful like that?”

How can we align our personal goals with the team's focus?

It’s easy for expectations to get lost.

There are two compounding reasons for this:

  1. Many of us are wired to focus on the big picture and gloss over the details.
  2. We all carry an assumption that what we think is clear for us should naturally be clear for everyone else.

Put those together, and it’s no wonder Tonya and Shawn feel like they’re leading uphill.

Once you have expectations, the important next step for leaders is to be clear, direct — and remember them.

Let’s unpack how to manage expectations. Here’s a simple framework to help you and those you lead:

Aaron Lee, ACC




Define Expectations

We often focus on the development of expectations, asking questions like:

  • are these expectations realistic?
  • am I expecting too much?
  • am I challenging the team enough with these expectations?

We have another tool for this - here's a video on that tool.

The important step for leaders in defining expectations is this:

Have I defined the expectations?

When we ask clients if they have defined their expectations, they often cannot articulate them as clearly as they think they can.

And if they can’t articulate them clearly to us, then how clear are team members going to be?

Defining expectations should lead you to simple statements. Goals are big, but our expectations should be:

  • simple
  • repeatable
  • memorable

Now that we’ve defined our expectations, we need to communicate these standards.



Communicate Standards.

Expectations are a standard or a bar. We want to meet the threshold — and hopefully exceed it.

But how do we meet a bar we can’t see?

A critical step leaders often miss is clearly communicating these standards to our team.

If the expectation is simple, this is not a complex presentation. Simple standards can be communicated in batches.

This allows future-oriented Voices to connect the dots and present-oriented Voices to create their personal punch list. Take the free Assessment here.

The secret sauce of leadership is knowing how to multiply what you know into the minds and actions of the teams you lead.

When you Communicate Standards, you multiply your expectations into your team.

This sets them up for success because they are now clear on the expected actions they need to take.

Communicating Standards can’t be taken for granted. Communication is the foundation for strong teams, and this helps explains why. Communication is not only transmission: it is also reception.

Check for understanding when you Communicate Standards. Did the team understand exactly what you said? Do you need to clarify any details?

Simply saying it doesn’t mean you have communicated your standards. Make sure they heard what you intended them to hear.

In the speed of our 21st-century work environments, it’s easy to rush this.


Slow down here to speed up later.


Future-oriented? Or Present-oriented? It makes a difference!

Take the free 5 Voices Assessment and take your first step to truly knowing yourself.



Reinforce Expectations

We tend to set it and forget it. (Wait, is that just me?)

When was the last time you discussed one of your standards?

For most of us, it’s been too long.

We have to finish our expectations process. This means we have to:

  • reinforce
  • revisit
  • remember

We need to recalibrate our team toward the ultimate goal every day.

You may have heard this example of getting off course:

If a plane shifts its heading 1 degree off course, it will miss its target by 92 feet for every mile it flies (roughly 100 miles for a cross-country flight).

Every day that passes by without reinforcing expectations is another 92 feet you’ll land away from your target.

What does 92 feet represent for your business?

lost revenue?

decreased productivity?

paying more overtime?

exhausted team members?

Find the right rhythm to Reinforce Expectations as you go.

You may revisit one expectation each week. Or you may develop a dashboard and measure the effectiveness of key expectations when you meet as a team or 1-on-1.


Expectations are important. We all have them, we all need them.

We can take our expectations to a new level on our way to building high-performing teams. And we can become leaders people want to follow when we deliver Clear Expectations.

  1. what is one expectation you could improve?
  2. develop your game plan: walk through each step of this tool
  3. choose a specific time to communicate this standard
  4. set a reminder on your calendar to reinforce the expectations

“If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

― Sylvia Plath

Increase Your Expectations

Our Leaders Rising Network team is embarking on this work for ourselves, and we want to invite you along.

Set clear expectations over 100 days, and your team will look different.

Ready to dive in?

What's coming for you in the next 100 days?

Accelerate Your Team's Performance

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