I had an exchange with a client this week, on a subject that I thought worth sharing. The client was frustrated to near rage with one of her employees over what she perceived as a consistent and belligerent shortcoming on the employee’s part. It was a relatively small issue, really – but the employee’s consistent failure to perform one task in a particular manner had my client steaming.


I asked her what I perceived to be a simple question, but one that stopped her in her tracks. “Did you ever communicate to Barbie, your expectation of the very specific criteria you were looking for in this report, in what format, and why?”

“Well, no,” was her response. “But it’s just common sense, isn’t it?”

I then gently advised my client that the fault really was hers. If we have not clearly communicated our expectations to someone, then we have no right whatsoever to be irritated when that someone falls short of those expectations.  To expect an employee (co-worker, friend, off-spring or spouse for that matter!) to meet expectations that have never been communicated is simply unrealistic and sets that person up for failure.

A key component of communication in leadership is the ability to set our team  up for success, by clearly defining what is expected of them and the manner in which you visualize those expectations being met. Then, if they have a different vision for how this task can, or should be accomplished, they have a spring board to bring their adaptation ideas to you for input and/or approval. Otherwise, they may proceed with their own ideas and when those efforts are met with disapproval, it can be disheartening and dis-empowering.

Clearly, there are times when a leader needs to give their team wings to fly with their own ideas and their own processes. In those situations, the leader needs to praise the positive results and/or let their team deal with the consequences and fix the problem if those processes don’t work out.

But in those situations when a specific expectation is an imperative, respectful leadership and respectful communication requires that those parameters are clearly established up front.