Expectations: Are they constraining how you lead? - Michelle Gibbings

Expectations, we all have them. They can both constrain and inspire us. Problems arise when they define how we think and narrow our field of view.

Expectations work both ways. Just as parents, peers, work colleagues, friends and family place expectations on us, we too place expectations on the people around us.

Interestingly others can easily influence the expectations we have of those around us.

Research conducted many years ago by Psychologist Robert Rosenthal looked at the impact expectations can have on how teachers treat students, and the resulting impact on the student’s performance.

In the experiment, teachers were told the names of students that were expected to do well through the year. These names however, were picked at random (i.e. the students selected were no brighter than other students in the class).

The research found that the teachers treated these students differently. They were more supportive and friendly towards those individuals. They were more willing to spend time with them and provide them with feedback. Not surprisingly, the performance of these students improved.

Expectations play out in the workplace all the time.

Think back to the last time you hired someone for a role. What’s one of the first things you did? It’s likely you rang someone you know to get feedback on the person you are thinking of hiring. It’s a sound, logical step.

When we are hiring people or moving to a new leadership role we often seek other people’s opinions on a person’s performance. This type of checking is common. It can help you better understand a person’s capability, their fit with the team, and who may perform well in certain roles.

However, the challenge is the advice can often be misplaced as different people thrive under different types of leadership.

If I reflect on my time as a corporate leader, there were many times when a colleague’s well-intentioned feedback on a potential team member turned out to be wrong. People who were pigeonholed as a certain type of worker turned out to be star performers in the team.

The solution to this dilemma is to seek advice from multiple sources and also to suspend judgement. If you have inherited a team, take the time to really get to know each person and their strengths and weaknesses before too quickly identifying the ‘stars’ and ‘laggards’.

Having a more open mind means you are less likely to be coloured by other people’s expectations, and less likely to let their views impact your decision making.

Expectations. They are not easy to ditch. So what do you need to shift in your mindset to do this?

Change happens. Make it work for you.


Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them accelerate progress. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’.  For more information:www.michellegibbings.com or contact michelle@michellegibbings.com.

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