As I have been studying leadership, I have noticed that having expectations and setting them are two ends of a wide spectrum. Many leaders have a vision of employee performance, but struggle in communicating this vision clearly. As leaders, we sometimes get stuck at the 100,000-foot level, and forget that many of our employees are operating in the weeds. These people, who are doing the hard work to keep our organizations alive and well, need clear and direct communication in order to be successful.
Mutual Understanding of Roles and Desires
This reminds me of a woman, let’s call her Betty, that I worked with a few years ago. Betty was a true work horse who could accomplish any task I gave her. She was so exceptional that I started to give her more vague instructions over time because I felt she was smart enough to figure out how to accomplish the more complex projects. I quickly learned through open, honest communication from her, that Betty didn’t like having ambiguous goals and felt as though she was being unsuccessful in her role. At first, I was shocked because Betty was one of the hardest workers I knew and I had full trust in her ability to complete assignments. What I realized was that vague ideal thinking was not something Betty felt comfortable with and she wanted to have more specific targets to meet.
Look Inward and Outward
In this situation with Betty, I was trying to do a couple things. First, I was trying to give an exception employee the change to do different kinds of work. What I didn’t realize initially, is that I gave her an opportunity that wasn’t right for her. Although I felt Betty had all the skills to take an ambiguous goal, such as to “increase client involvement with our organization,” it was because of the safe space I created with Betty that she was willing to tell me that this was not working for her. The second thing I was doing, was trying to delegate so that I could continue pursuing strategic visionary initiatives of the organization. As the leader, it was on me to give my employee what she needed to be successful, but also, I needed to assess and determine if I picked the right person for the task at hand. Something had to change or I would have an unhappy employee as well as an incomplete project.
Aligning People and Projects
To this day, I still look back on this experience with Betty because it taught me a huge lesson in leadership. Every person has a skill set but also a unique desire on how to develop those skills. Betty, who loved to figure out how to accomplish tasks more efficiently, needed specific targets to meet. So, in this situation, I asked Betty to “get 50 people to attend our client appreciation event this month.” She was much more successful with this directive and we made progress towards the overall goal. However, I still needed to get out of the day-to-day operations in order to move our organization to the next level. Ultimately, in order to help with the projects I needed to delegate, I promoted someone to a mid-level manager position, who could see the summit I was envisioning, but also knew how to chart the path forward for Betty and our team. This allowed me to focus on high level strategies and allowed my team of eager beavers to feel useful in their roles. As a leader, I had to realize that my employees and I were not in alignment and it was my responsibility to figure out what the shift in order for us to successfully reach the end goal.