As Leaders, You Get What You Expect

Posted by Joseph Sherren on August 29, 2012

Which is more important – expectations or reality? In discussing the topic, I use this example:  I’m meeting two people tomorrow morning; one I tell we will meet at 9:00 am and to the other I say 11:00 am.  I arrive at 10:00 am.  That is the reality.  The result is that the first person will be totally upset.  The second will be just fine.

So what was more important here, the “reality” of when I arrived, or the expectation of each of the individuals?  Life works the same way.  Achieving success is more about what you expect than the reality happening around you.

Which may cause you to wonder, why are some people more successful, make more money, have more friends, enjoy better health and derive greater satisfaction from life?  All evidence shows that it has little to do with education, background, circumstance or even intelligence. The one common trait of successful people is the expectation that success is possible and turning that expectation into daily action.

In my work as an international business trainer, I have noticed that people who “expect” to be successful and happy usually are.  Those who believe their success and happiness depends on luck, circumstance, or other people, usually are not.

The definition of success is widely debated.  My experience, my reality, tells me that there are five basic principles for success:

  1. Values-Based Living – There is no success without happiness. There is no happiness without peace of mind.  There is no peace of mind if you are not living in alignment with your own standard of ethics and values.  So the first secret is to know exactly what your values are, the priority of those values and living by them.
  2. Good Health – When I ask older people; Is there anything you would have done differently in life.  The response, “I would have looked after my body better.” People will destroy their health to make money, then spend money to get their health back.  It is hard to work at peak performance when you do not feel well.
  3. Loving Relationships – Loneliness causes depression, poor mental and physical health and possibly death.  We need to be deeply connected to others. Maslow defined this as the need for belonging. It is more than that; it is like food in that we need it to survive.
  4. Financial freedom – I don’t mean extreme wealth.  Simply put, we cannot enjoy life if we are constantly worried about having enough money for our basic needs.
  5. Living a Goal-Driven, Purposeful Life – Our need to live a life of meaning and purpose and be in an occupation that is in alignment with our goals is the greatest single driver of motivation, peace and contentment.

Notice that each of these principles is a choice.  People who expect to be happy, healthy, financially independent and achievement-oriented usually are.  Those who believe that they do not have control are often unhappy and blame others for their situation.

People are responsible for their own thinking. But, is it possible for a manager to influence employees’ success? Absolutely.  Our own self-perception has been significantly influenced by the expectations of our parents and teachers who were influential in our lives. Those expectations have a lasting impact on our thinking. Managers have that same powerful influence on staff.

This law of expectation has been proven in studies.  In one experiment, teachers (chosen at random) were told that because they were the best teachers (they weren’t), their students (also chosen at random) had extremely high IQ’s (they didn’t).

The teachers were instructed not to treat them differently.  However, those students out-performed their district peers in all areas of scholastic achievement. The only difference was the expectation the teacher had of the students.

In her famous research on discrimination “The Eye of the Storm”, Jane Elliot discovered that people, selected at random, who were made to believe to be less intelligent and deserved less from life, actually lived up (or down) to that expectation.

In another situation documented in Psychology Today, a young man who had “A” grades through high school received a 98 on his SAT. He mistakenly thought it was his IQ and ended up almost failing his first year of college.  When told the difference, he went back to being an “A” student.

Leaders and business owners should ensure a workplace environment that encourages high self esteem where success is expected.

What do you do to build confidence and self-esteem in your staff and set them up for success?

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