When I was in my twenties, just beginning to find any semblance of a stride as a leader, I shared with a mentor that I was receiving some pushback among some people on my team that my expectations were too high. The expectations probably were too high as I was leading a team of predominantly volunteers with a few staff members. I didn’t have kids yet so I could not really understand the pressures and commitments the parents were facing. In my mind, my expectations weren’t too high. I wanted leaders to care about their own spiritual growth, to attend training meetings I was leading, and to invest time in the students they were serving. (The amount of time I was asking was the source of the pushback). So what do you do when your expectations as a leader seem to be in tension with the reality of your context?
I asked a mentor that question. In response he grabbed a rubber band and stretched it between his two hands, one hand above the other, to where the rubber band was being stretched vertically and there was tension in the band. He said you really only have two options if you want the tension gone. (A) You can lower your expectations. As he lowered his top hand, the tension in the band went away. After making his first points, he reestablished the tension in the band and offered the second option. (B) Or the team will raise theirs. And he raised his bottom hand to relieve the tension.
In this instance, I did need to lower some of my expectations. In other instances, I needed to hold my ground and only see the tension resolved when people on my team raised theirs. Mismatched expectations between the leader and people on the team are going to result in relational tension. You can live with that tension or you can work to resolve it. If you want to resolve it, here are your two options:
Lower your expectations.
Even with great leaders who love their teams, sometimes the leader’s expectations on the team are unrealistic. I see it happen most frequently when the stage of life of the leader is different than the stage of life of some on the team. For example, a leader without kids living at home can unintentionally fail to grasp the impact of multiple nights away from home. Unrealistic expectations can also happen when the leader doesn’t understand the work required to pull off a major goal. There are times when you need to lower your expectations.
The team needs to raise their collective expectations.
Just because a leader hears the expectations are too high doesn’t mean they actually are. Sometimes the team needs to raise their expectations, needs to raise their capacity. Because we should be continually growing and developing, the team’s capacity should grow from year to year. Which also means the collective expectations should be able to get higher. There are times when you need to hold to your expectations and help the collective team raise theirs.