Setting Smart Expectations for Your Team
This weekend I finished reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Friends and colleagues had recommended the book to me for years, and I bought an e-book version of it about 2 years ago, but just started reading it recently. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it; and if you have read it, pick it up again. It will be worth it!
In the book Mr. Carnegie relates a story where he was about to criticize a young secretary and he pauses. In that brief second, he hits upon an astounding bit of self-reflection. He states to himself, “You have had ten thousand times as much business experience. How can you expect her to have your viewpoint, your judgment, your initiative…what were you doing at nineteen? Remember the asinine mistakes and blunders you made?” (Carnegie, 1981)
This really hit home for me because I have been guilty of expecting others to immediately come to the conclusions and take the actions I would take simply because we have been working together for a while. I must admit I made my share of mistakes (probably more than my share) when I was younger. This anecdote reinforced to me the idea that, as leaders, we must set reasonable expectations for those we lead based on their skills, abilities and experience as they currently exist, not based on our own.
Putting our younger selves in their shoes can be a great way to get an alternate perspective on the issue at hand and how we want our team to solve it. I know from my own experience that I have led young people who are far more talented and insightful than I ever was at their age! It’s important to consider how our younger selves would have dealt with the current situation as we provide guidance to them, especially if they are finding the task challenging, or we are struggling to understand why they aren’t succeeding to the degree we expect.
Additionally, our job as leaders is to assess where our team members need to be in the future and to develop their skills, abilities and experience to get them to the point where they can operate autonomously and independently based on our intent. This can be a lengthy process, taking years to fully develop someone. Training, education, and mentoring are all among the methods we can use to develop someone’s potential, but we must exercise patience while they get there.
Regular self-reflection is key to a leader’s personal and professional success. Taking a short trip back in time to a day when we weren’t so experienced can give us some valuable insight into how we can help our team be successful!
Carnegie, D. (1981). How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.