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How Your Expectations Shape Reality

A story is told of a young psychology student serving in the Army who one day decided to test a theory. Drawing kitchen duty, he was given the job of passing out apricots at the end of the chow line.

He asked the first few soldiers that came by, "You don't want any apricots, do you?" Ninety percent said "No." Then he tried the positive approach: "You do want apricots, don't you?" About half answered, "Uh, yeah. I'll take some." Then he tried a third test, based on the fundamental either/or selling technique. This time he asked, "One dish of apricots or two?" And in spite of the fact that soldiers don't like Army apricots, 40 percent took two dishes and 50 percent took one.

The story is a reminder of the power of expectations and how they serve you in leadership. A word of caution to leaders is not to neglect this important leadership component-staying abreast of the expectations of your customers and clients; not to mention those of your organizational team.

Let’s probe a little deeper and be sure that the expectations you have are serving you well. Here are four questions for your consideration.

Are your expectations based upon reality? In leadership there is a fine line at times between expectations and reality. It is what Colin Powell refers to as the "ground truth" of measuring your current situation against the unvarnished truth as it exists. Expectations ought to be based on a blend of your current circumstances measured against future goals. Facing your expectations with this reality will keep you focused as you achieve your goals.

Are your expectations in harmony with your vision? While expectations must be grounded in reality they too must be in keeping with your vision. Do not sacrifice your vision because of your reality. Together, your expectations can be a powerful motivator, carrying you beyond your current reality.

Are your expectations transferable? The buy-in of your expectations is critical. Have your expectations been articulated to and embraced by your team? John Maxwell was right when he said, "The people’s capacity to achieve is determined by their leader’s ability to empower." The expectations of one has limited fulfillment. But when those expectations are embraced and enacted upon by your entire team, you will see a compound effect take place that will carry you to the next level. Make sure that your expectations have been transferred and received.

Are your expectations helping or hurting? Leaders must evaluate their expectations in light of how they meet organizational goals and if they are properly promoting the health of the organization. While strong expectations serve your organization well, unhealthy ones can have a negative impact. It is important that the leader get it right and that the expectations you promote are taking you in the right direction.

Are your expectations serving you well? Let us know in the comments.

Doug Dickerson is a nationally recognized leadership speaker and writer. He is the author of the new book Great Leaders Wanted! Visit Doug's blog or follow him @managemntmoment.

[Image: Flickr user Tom Wachtel]

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  • Nick Sparagis

    I like this stuff.  Another term I've seen used is "suspension of belief".  This is what the coach of Lehigh spoke to his players about prior to playing Duke in the 2012 NCAA tournament.  What happens is the players start to believe what 99.9% of the general public believes.  Obviously, Duke is the better program, but their coach challenged them to suspend their belief and not buy into the masses.  

  • Deepakdhungel

    Trying to align expactations with the organizational objectives though fail some time to understand untold approaches for expected outcomes though we also fail to ask for firther clarity on time. This was helpful to realize the way we devise to create expectations.

  • Martin Haworth

    We have a big challenge in the UK with how many plastic bags customers are given and the cost to the environment. When retailers fail to offer a bag, they get complaints. When they offer a bag, we have a sea of plastic in the middle of the ocean.

    Working with a client on communication skills, I devised a little test around the language we use.

    To check this out personally (albeit hardly scientifically!), I offered a bag to every customer (thus fulfilling the retailers need to be seen to offer good service).

    When I said, 'Would you like a bag?' - 90% said 'Yes'

    When I asked, 'Do you need a bag?' - 40% said 'Yes'.


  • Nick Sparagis

    Good example, Malcolm Gladwell writes often about small changes that make large differences.  We need to focus more on small changes.  What happens is that once it hits a tipping point, then people stop using plastic b/c the majority of people are not. 

    Also, you always need to find a substitute.  You just can't ask people to go cold turkey.  It's cheaper to offer eco-friendly bags for free than to fill the world with plastic bags.  Sticking bags in a hole right now, seems more convenient b/c it's what we've been doing for a long time.