The simplest phrases are often the most powerful. I was thinking about this as I attended a chemical dependency seminar for parents at my children’s high school. The speakers shared statistics about teenage drug & alcohol use and told us about their first-hand experiences with addiction. They also recommended that we tell our kids, “My expectations are that you won’t do illegal drugs and that you won’t drink until you are 21, and then that you will do so responsibly.”
I felt like hitting myself on the side of the head. While I wanted my children to stay away from drugs and alcohol, I don’t think I had ever explicitly told them. At breakfast the next morning, I mentioned the seminar, and I replayed the exact phrase, “My expectations are…”
Will these words alone be enough to keep my kids from experimenting? Of course not. But, by saying them, I reinforced our family values in the context of drug use and underage drinking, and I felt I was doing so in a way that was respectful and demonstrated that I trusted them to make good choices.
It got me thinking about the equivalent in leadership, and how I could make use of the phrase, “My expectations are…” when I delegate projects, write performance reviews, and speak at employee meetings. Using these words, I could describe things in a way that would show my trust, motivate them, and perhaps even inspire them to achieve more than they thought they could. E.g., “My expectations for the budget proposal are that you will deliver an executive summary with a detailed spreadsheet, by the deadline, and that you will identify the right people to work with so that the proposal is accepted quickly.”
In thinking about how to use the phrase “My expectations are…” in a written performance evaluation, I decided to dust off some reviews I received in the past. In one, a manager gave me somewhat vague direction of what I should do to develop my career:
- “Over the coming year it will be very helpful for you to continue your advocacy for your group and the collaboration with the business units…”
- “I encourage you to focus more time on a longer term roadmap for your group…”
- “I also encourage you to continue building out your thoughts on areas for you to have greater impact than you even do now at the company and where that may lead to developing skills further…”
Imagine how much more effective his guidance would have had if he had used the “My expectations are” phrase:
- “Over the coming year, my expectations are that you will meet with all the key players in the business units, ensuring that there is excellent collaboration…”
- “My expectations are that you will deliver a 3-year roadmap for your group…”
- “My expectations are that you will identify two new service offerings, along with a plan for developing and rolling them out to the company.
If he had written them this way, I know I would have had more clarity about his expectations and would have felt empowered and motivated to deliver on them. However, as they were, I didn’t really understand what he was expecting.
We all know that kids and employees can’t read our minds. Do you have a favorite simple yet powerful phrase to convey values, rules, directives, or goals? I’d like to hear from you!
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© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.