No-one rises to low expectations

Six little-known leadership tips to raise your people’s performance

I love this saying, because it’s so true. “No-one rises to low expectations.
The standard you set becomes the standard you can expect. Whatever you regard as normal around here becomes the ‘norm’ – the benchmark for people’s behaviours and the outcomes they strive to achieve.

In my experience, people want their leaders to ask for more than this. Otherwise, what’s the point in having a leader at all!

Don’t you feel like this too? Like you want your leaders to see the best in you, even when you yourself don’t? That you want them to inspire you to go beyond the point you’ve always settled for previously, and help you to find out what you’re really capable of?

But some of the best leaders I know can come unstuck when it comes to asking people to rise and be better. Two of the biggest problems I see again and again are these:

  • A pace-setting leader, who sets very high standards for themselves, can come unstuck when faced with someone who doesn’t hold themselves to a high standard, or who doesn’t feel confident about being able to keep up with that leader. Those leaders don’t always know how to help someone bridge that gap.
  • A strong, person-centred leader, someone who is highly-resilient themselves and who knows how to take care of the people around them, can be afraid of ‘breaking’ people. Instead, they try to protect them, to shield them from all the tough stuff that they themselves have to deal with.

Here’s my top tips for setting high expectations in a really effective way:

1. Be exemplary yourself
Not just in the outputs you achieve, or the pace of your work, but in your leadership style, your emotional intelligence and your own behaviours too.

As Socrates said: “Know thyself, Control thyself, Give thyself.”

2. Build your understanding of others
Different folks need different strokes.
Learn what makes the individuals in your care tick. Learn their fears, learn their ambitions. Modify your approach to suit their needs.

3. Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Relationships are the oil in the engine, the glue that binds a team together (and any number of other mixed metaphors). Build relationships. That means a two-way flow of attention, care and trust. You can set high expectations for people without having a great relationship. And it’ll work for a while (especially if they’re afraid enough and if the task is simple enough). But in the long-run, great relationships are a must-have for getting people to raise their game.

4. Show people it’s OK to fail
So long as you manage the risks and learn from the outcomes.
I often quote Batman to leaders who are worried about people failing. Of falling down and hurting themselves.

“Why do we fall down Bruce?
So we can learn to get up.”
Thomas Wayne, Batman’s father

If you never ask someone to risk falling, they’ll never learn to rise up.

5. Ask for what you need
Sometimes we forget the simple stage of asking. And then we get annoyed that people can’t mind-read. Ask people to raise their game. Tell them what you need from them.

6. Coach the Learning
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of ‘feedback’. “Oh, I’ve got some feedback for you.” Go away, I know what went wrong. What I need, is someone who cares enough to coach the learning out of me. “What did you notice while that was happening?” “What else did you need?” “What would you do differently next time?”

 


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