Most of the problems we experience, in business and in life, derive from our inability to set proper expectations for those depending on us. This is often a symptom of wanting to please others, as we tell people what they want to hear rather than what they should expect. Let me give you a classic example from my life and from the lives of married men all across the world.
Consider the following scenario: you’re at the office trying to finish up a few last minute tasks, possibly closing a new account or training an associate on a key element of your business strategy. Your wife sends you a text asking when you will be home, and you respond with, “Leaving now…be home in 20 minutes.” First of all, this is impossible considering you haven’t even left the building and it’s a 25 minute drive home. Maybe you’ll hit a few extra green lights on the way home and taking it up a notch on the freeway. The rationale always works out in our minds.
Upon hitting the send button, your mind refocuses to complete the task quickly, often losing track of time while the guilt builds. The task is left incomplete or is poorly done, and you run out of the office grabbing your jacket & briefcase on the way out. Getting to your car, you realize you only have 10 minutes to get home, and there is no way you will be on time to the disappointment of your wife who is finishing up dinner while you run your first semi-red light in a mad dash to beat the laws of time & physics.
Due to your ego (and the mounting guilt), you don’t send a text to update your wife on the delay, instead choosing to walk in the house to the family at the table while your once warm dinner chills with the mood in the room. Apologies abound to deaf ears and rolling eyes as you once again failed to come through on an expectation poorly set. The crazy thought is that none of this had to take place.
Why don’t we simply say something like, “I’m sorry I’m a little late tonight. I will leave in 10 minutes and be home in 45 minutes.” Because we don’t want to disappoint. Our intentions are good, but in setting poor expectations, we end up disappointing on a grander scale than if we had just set the proper expectations in the first place.
Setting poor expectations is the fastest way to undermine your leadership in your family or your business. However, setting proper expectations, even if those expectation are initially disappointing, will strengthen your leadership and grow trust among those you are leading as a person who does what he says he will do.