Our leadership is defined by the success of our teams. A good coach is continually setting the standard for performance within their culture. Equipping our teams by educating them on the expectations required is a continual, never ending, process
In my previous article, I wrote about the preliminary steps to become an outstanding coach to get the best out of individuals and teams. This article continues the series on how we, as leaders, can work more effectively with those in our organizations. This series is based on the book, The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders, by Lee Colan, PhD.
Unclear expectations lead to unclear destinations
Reliable coaching starts at the very beginning of any process. If we wait until the end, then we are imposing consequences, rather than inspiring positive performance. According to Dr. Colan, the large majority of performance frustrations stem from not communicating clear expectations up front. I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment. Our teams should be able to easily answer this question: “How will I know if I have met expectations?”
Perception is Reality
The imperfect nature of human communication demands that we be more specific than we think we need to be when it comes to defining expectations. This is because a lack of clear expectations is the most common reason for performance problems. Gaining alignment with our teams on performance expectations is job one for excellent leaders.
Use these 4 questions to gain alignment
To ensure alignment of your expectations with your team’s performance, let’s explore the 4 questions that everyone asks, regardless of whether you actually hear them:
- Where are we going? (Goals)
- What are we doing to get there? (Plans)
- How can I contribute? (Roles)
- What’s in it for me? (Rewards)
Creating alignment with your teams does not just happen. As someone once said, “success is a well-planned event.” Answering these four fundamental questions creates a bridge that connects today’s tasks to the broader purpose of the team.
A goal of leaders should be to help individuals understand the longer-term impact of their personal performance on the team’s results. Everyone should be clear on how their own actions help or hinder the team. And, they should understand how their performance aligns with rewards or consequences.
Continual Communication of Expectations
In his book, Dr. Colan defines what he calls the “silence spiral.” When employees don’t get the proper information to perform their jobs, including answers to the fundamental four questions, then tend to fill in the blanks with their own assumptions. Because of our human nature, most of those assumptions tend to be worst case scenarios, because of our tendency to be insecure. So, people assume the worst in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The silence spiral goes something like this:
- Silence leads to doubt
- Doubt leads to fear
- Fear leads to panic
- Panic leads to worst-case thinking
When your team members see a closed-door meeting, are they thinking positively or negatively? How do they react when they receive a vague answer to an honest question?
The silence spiral can be prevented by proactively explaining expectations. Hearing the facts directly from the boss is key. Keeping folks in the dark is not really helping them. They should be treated like adults who can make adjustments and prepare for new tasks, goals and plans. Finding out key information accidently or making assumptions is much worse than the truth.
Aligning on clear expectations can be tedious, but if it’s a part of your management style you can plan on being purposeful in all your communications. And in that communication, the more specific you are regarding your expectations, the much higher likelihood of team success.
Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.