Leadership and Unclear Expectations


Setting and managing clear expectations is just one way we can build relational trust with those around us. And when trust is established, our teams will flourish!

3 Simple Ways to Set and Manage Expectations

The following scenario has played out in homes thousands of times, I’m sure. It certainly has in mine. Let me set the stage. 

When my husband and I brought our newborn baby home from the hospital, the joy and excitement seemed unending—until the routine of nightly wake-up calls began.

In the beginning, I'd dutifully wake up every three hours to feed our baby boy, but eventually my body started to grow tired. I remember one night waking up as usual to the sound of our son’s cries. This time, instead of immediately getting up, I waited to see if my sound-asleep husband would wake up. As I lay there for a while, detecting no response from him, thoughts began to flood my mind:

  • Does he not hear the baby cry?
  • Is he not waking up on purpose?
  • Does he not realize I’m exhausted and need a break?
  • And on, and on…

The problem, however, was that even though I had all these expectations and thoughts swirling inside my head, I had never actually verbalized them to my husband. And because he was already very involved with our son once he got home from work, he had no idea I needed extra help with the nightly feedings. It was my job to communicate to my husband what I needed from him, and it took only one conversation to clarify my expectations!

The Burden of Unclear Expectations 

According to recent research by Gallup and ComPsych, unclear expectations are the primary culprit behind employee stress, dissatisfaction and, ultimately, underperformance. Gallup tells us that as many as 50% of employees don't know what’s expected from them at work.

It is not the employee’s job to set and clarify expectations. This one rests squarely on the leader.

Unfortunately, too many times the relationship between leaders and those they lead is like the one between two spouses who have all sorts of “unspoken” expectations and are constantly frustrated when those unspoken expectations go unmet.

Unclear expectations place a heavy burden on employees who really want to do a great job but simply don’t know how. Unclear expectations also create unnecessary relational rifts between employees and leaders, eventually leading to loss of trust and regard for one another. The good news is that these rifts are reparable and, for the most part, can be avoided altogether! 

Clarifying Expectations

We don't have to look far to see a great example of a leader who set clear expectations. We can look at the way Jesus related with people during His public ministry, especially His disciples.

A Job Description Is Not the Answer… A Relationship Is

Too often, when expectations are not being met, we default to job descriptions, as if a piece of paper was supposed to set and clarify all expectations. 

A job description is a good first step and can serve as a guide, but it will take much more than that to maneuver the ever-evolving work environment. It will take a relationship!

Jesus was very intentional as He built relationships with His disciples. We never see Him handing out a piece of paper with a set of expectations to Peter, Matthew, Andrew or John. On the contrary, Jesus invested time in building strong connections with His disciples, communicating and adjusting expectations based on their readiness.

As a leader, how much time do you spend with those who report directly to you? If the answer is “not much,” maybe it’s time to shift your priorities. Schedule time on your calendar for every direct report, based on his or her need.

Words Matter: Be clear… Be honest … Be approachable

Nothing beats clarity and honesty, and they represent the only sure way to prevent those we lead from guessing what we want or trying to read between the lines. Words matter. And how we express those words also matters. 

Jesus modeled clarity and honesty perfectly.

When He interacted with the woman taken in adultery, Jesus’ words “go and sin no more” left her with very clear expectations on how she was to conduct herself now that she was forgiven.

As we read the Gospels, we are met with the simplicity, directness and honesty of Jesus’ words: 

  • Love your enemy…
  • Forgive men when they sin against you…
  • Do not worry…
  • Seek first the Kingdom of God…
  • Do not judge…
  • Apart from Me you can do nothing…
  • Do not be afraid…
  • Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s
  • The greatest among you will be your servant…
  • For whoever exalts himself will be humbled…

Jesus’ words were simple, clear, direct, honest and transparent. Even when He used stories to help illustrate a principle, His stories were relevant and relatable. 

There were no stupid questions. There were no taboo topics. He imparted wisdom and insight without finding fault. He provided clear and constructive criticism when needed, guided the misguided, encouraged the discouraged and gave hope to the hopeless. 

Today, 2000 years later, His words still guide, inspire and provide clarity and direction to millions of His followers around the world. 

Accountability Is a Good Thing

Accountability has become this “thing” we talk a lot about in our organizations, but rarely do we practice it effectively.

We treat accountability as though merely talking about it somehow makes it part of our culture. Accountability is a great thing, and it should start with the leader. Before trying to keep others accountable, those in leadership should model how accountability works. 

Jesus, yet again, provides a beautiful example of how accountable leaders should behave.

First and foremost, Jesus was accountable to His Father. He never tried to “spin” any outcomes. His always did what He said He would do. When He struggled, He spoke to His Father openly about it. The principles He imparted to His followers, He modeled Himself.

As a leader, who are you accountable to? Can your team count on you to follow through with what you said you would do? Do you own up to failures and mistakes? Do you apologize when you are wrong? Do you state the truth, or do you exaggerate and embellish things to achieve your objectives? How much is your word worth?

When you as a leader are accountable, it’s much easier to hold your team accountable for delivering results.

It starts on the Inside

At Lead Like Jesus, we believe that great leadership starts on the inside. It starts with a leader whose heart has been transformed and who is committed to following the leadership model of the greatest leader of all time, Jesus. 

This is not just some mushy religious talk. This is not another leadership development trick. It’s a lifelong journey and the only way leaders can have a profound, lasting impact on the lives of others. Our “doing” comes from our “being.” 

Setting and managing clear expectations is just one way we can build relational trust with those around us. And when trust is established, our teams and organizations will flourish!

Written by Megan Pacheco

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