Some “first” times are awesome. The first time you rode a bike, the first time you kissed a girl (or guy), your first date, your first interview, your first office, your first child, the list goes on. Of course some first time’s are not so awesome. Your first hospitalization, your first friend to pass away, your first car accident, the first time you were fired from a job, this list too goes on and the lists can be interchangeable, depending on individual experience. Can you remember your most recent “first”? Do you remember having expectations before the experience? I have had first experiences that have blown away my expectations very positively but have had many more that did not live up to what I was expecting. The difference between what we expect and what we experience is what I am calling the gap. You expect an event to go one way, but it ends up going in a very different direction. What now? The questions to consider here are how do we fill this gap, what impacts how we fill this gap, and is what we fill the gap with controllable or just based upon our history?
Chris and I have mentioned on this blog many times about how teams at work, when not communicated with, will assume something is going on and for the most part their assumption will be personal and it will be negative. After all, if there was good news, leadership would share it, right? This too is a kind of gap, but this represents more of an information gap than an expectation gap. Discussions about the expectation gap could go in many directions so let’s narrow it down to relationships, specifically the relationships with your boss, peers, and members of your team. When you started your current job chances are you had some expectations in each of these areas. How did they measure up and what have you been doing to manage that gap?
Here are some gap examples: Your boss is a micromanager, more so than you like or your boss gives too little direction and flies too loose for you. Your peers don’t communicate the way you think they should or want them too. Your team demands too much from you or are too disorganized and lack discipline. There are many more examples if you think about it but only two essential ways to fill these gaps, you can either fill them with trust or suspicion.
What is your default thought when someone misses an expectation of yours? Do you believe they had the best intentions or do you assume the worst? How you answer that question will determine whether you fill the gap with trust or suspicion. If someone has failed to meet your expectation on more than one occasion, that repeated behavior will help you fill the gap with suspicion and assumption of the worst. Do you have a go-to person at work? Someone you know that if you give them a task they will go above and beyond. If they happen to not meet your expectation, that gap would most certainly be filled with trust and you will know that when you talk to them they will have a good reason why they did not succeed.
Regardless of history, yours or anyone else’s, regardless of whether they have failed to meet your expectations or normally meet your expectations all the time, how you fill the gap is always a choice. You can assume the worst in people and choose to respond with suspicion or you can see the best in them and choose to respond with trust. As a leader how you respond repeatedly to the gaps will lead to how everyone around you responds. This is the influence of leadership. The culture of your team or organization can be hugely impacted by the leaders response to unmet expectations. What kind of environment broods productivity, an environment of trust or one of suspicion?
Remember the first time you failed to meet someone’s expectations? You probably do and either it is a positive or negative memory. How they responded to you, either with trust, seeing the best in you, or suspicion, assuming the worst, impacts you probably to this day. As a leader we have the same opportunity to impact those around us. Seeing the best in someone, especially if they failed to meet your expectations multiple times, may be something they carry with them for the rest of their careers and lives. By seeing the best and responding with trust, we can impact those around us in a surprising way, it may be their first time, but even if it isn’t, lets try to make it the best time they ever failed to meet someone’s expectations.