I've learned over the years that a lot of the problems that leaders deal with are the result of unmet expectations. This is true of the leader - as sometimes things don't go the way they should. But it's especially true of followers, when reality doesn't quite match up with what had been envisioned.
Some of us leaders have a particular penchant for being overly optimistic. When all is well, this is not a problem, but when things go south... that's another story. The reality is that in every organization, be it a business, a church or a non-prof, there will be ups and downs. How we interpret those ups and downs is often dependent upon the expectations the leader has created.
Let's use some sports teams as an example. As a longsuffering Toronto sports fan, the beginning of every season brings with it the dawn of great expectations. The Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 - I was 5 at the time. When Brian Burke was hired as the General Manager in the Fall of 2008 he made it clear that winning was paramount and laid out a strategy to get back to the playoffs.
Regardless of what was said, the expectation was that it would take place sooner, rather than later. The knives are now out for the Leafs GM after yet another disappointing season. You'd be hard pressed to find too many people who honestly believe that the Leafs are any closer to the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup, than they were four years ago. Yet we hope...
Then you have the Toronto Blue Jays. They won the World Series in 1993 but, since then, have been perennial also-rans in the toughest division in baseball. Alex Anthopolous was hired to be the Blue Jays new General Manager late in 2009 as a relative unknown. Expectations were limited, and a conservative strategy for a long-term building plan was clearly articulated by the new boss.
Now 3 years later the Blue Jays are still hovering around the .500 mark, winning half and losing half. The difference between them and the Leafs is that Alex has done a far better job of managing expectations, I suspect partly because he has a better relationship with the media. In a recent trade, for example, Anthopolous was clear that it wouldn't put the team "over the top." It would help, but the Jays are still a few pieces away from contention.
Rather than putting off most fans, it rather has had the opposite affect.The average fan seems willing to give Alex more time, sensing that he does know what he's doing. Expectations are that the team is only a couple of years away from contending for a long time. These expectations are also being moderated by a friendly media, who have been an ally to Anthopolous from a PR perspective.
Compare that to Burke, whose prickly personality seems to have rubbed many members of the media the wrong way. While still reporting "fairly" they are not inclined to do Brian any favours or give him the benefit of the doubt. The Leafs may not be much different as far as their performance but, because of expectations, they seem to be light years apart.
How does this relate to your organization? Who are the people who help shape expectations for you? Most of us don't have to deal with the media, but we all have influencers around us. If they're favourable they can help greatly; if they're not, look out. As a strategy, identify the influencers in your organization. Win them over. If you can't, you'd better be more influential that they are.
Finally, learn how to manage expectations through whatever means you have at your disposal. When you overpromise, people will eventually stop believing in you. It's preferable to overdeliver - to have results that exceed expectations. Be sure that when you are projecting into the future that you are realistic. And take a lesson from Anthopolous - be likeable. Work on your people skills. People will be much more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Are You Teachable?
Why Don't You Like Me?
Creating Positive Change
Are You a People Person?
The Pareto Principle