The Low Cost of High Expectations

Successful people expect more from themselves. More discipline, more effort, more planning, more teamwork, more results, more everything. They won’t settle for less. And it costs them very little.

Less successful do hope for more but most often expect to settle for less. When they expect to settle for less then less is exactly what they get. And it will cost them a ton.

As I write this I’m reminded of a story that comes from the great state of Texas. It happened years ago, when Texas was was beginning an extensive school testing program. The goal of the testing program in a nutshell was to determine if the teaching methods, and the teachers, were effective in helping the students learn. 

Towards the end of a particular school year each student was tested to determine their level of advancement from the prior school year. The results were shared with both students and their parents. 

This story involves two individual students, one a classic “A” student and the other, well the other was just kind of hanging on.  When the test results came back for these two students the educators and counselors were astonished. 

According to the test results the “A” student was way over-performing, he really had no business getting anything higher than a C. They told him that what ever he was doing he should keep doing it but they couldn’t hide their surprise at his results. The other student was found to be way under-performing, it was determined that he was capable of much higher grades if only he would make the effort. They encouraged him to try harder.

I’m sure both students and their parents were surprised by the results but in any event, the expectations for the next school year had been set. They were set by educators and counselors, both I’m sure well-meaning, whose job it was to manage students, not lead them.

Neither student disappointed, they both met the expectations set for them. The now former “A” student begin turning in “C” level work and sometimes even worse. The formerly low performing student suddenly begin doing “B” and sometimes even “A” level work. 

Expectations are an amazing motivator. 

Here’s something even more amazing… about half-way though the school year the guidance counselors discovered a mistake had been made with the test results. The test results for the previous year’s “A” student showed that he was in fact an outstanding student with the ability to quickly learn new concepts. His “A’s” should have been expected. The results also showed that the previously under-performing student was, for whatever reason, not able to internalize the curriculum and turn it into useable information. His grades accurately reflected that reality.

The only thing that had really changed for those two students were the expectations that they had for themselves. Other people “helped” them set their expectations but they had to agree to them for any real change to happen. 

The leadership lesson here is pretty straightforward. Managers may expect more from their people but leaders encourage their people expect more from themselves. 

The life lesson here is even clearer. High expectations cost virtually nothing but low expectations can cost you your success. If you want more then you need to expect more. Expect more from yourself and never allow yourself to settle for less than you’re capable of accomplishing. No one, not even you, rises to low expectations. 

Expecting less, and settling for less, results in less, of everything, and that is a fact!

 

When Managers Don’t Lead

Few things in business are more costly than a manager in a leadership position. – Steve Keating

Just so we’re clear about this, I have nothing but respect for great managers. They are the essential clue that hold organizations together. They keep things running smoothly, they execute strategies and tactics. Without sound management no organization can survive. 

But… yes you knew there had to be a but… but, simply putting a great manager into a leadership position does not make them a leader. A manager can be a leader and a leader can be a manager but very often a manager is not a leader and sometimes a great leader is not a good manager. 

Managing and leading are two entirely different things. We’re not talking semantics here, we are talking about a difference as large as night and day.

Managers use a microscope and leaders use a telescope. Managers examine the details, vital details yes, but details all the same. A leader not only sees the details they also see the much bigger picture, they see the wide angle view. While a manager sees what is, a leader sees what could be…and what should be.

Managing is about stuff, budgets, inventories, processes, etc. Leadership is about people and it’s only about people. Better management helps a organization survive, better leadership helps an organization grow. 

Successful organizations need both leaders and managers. Which one, managers or leaders, are more important is like arguing which came first, the chicken or the egg. (Just an aside, if you really want to know which one came first read Genesis in The Bible, it’s abundantly clear that the chicken came first.)

When managers occupy a leadership position without actually leading progress slows down. It can slow down so much that it actually stops. Whenever I see a business that is not growing I almost always see a manager in a position of leadership. 

Good managers can learn to lead after moving into a leadership position. The longer they try to manage when they should be leading the less likely they are to ever truly lead. The most successful leaders were leaders before they had a true leadership position. They understood that leadership was more about their disposition than it was about any position they may one day achieve. 

Some leaders have other leadership positions reporting to them. They must be certain that  leaders occupy those positions. 

Putting managers into leadership positions is a common mistake. It a mistake that produces common results rather then the uncommon results that the most successful organizations use to succeed again and again.

That makes it an incredibly costly mistake.