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Kind Leaders Tell People What to Do and How to Do it!

That is what being clear about expectations means!

The other day, I had a talk with a leader who was frustrated because a team member had spent a long time on a piece of work, finally presented it to the leader, and it wasn't what they had expected. The leader was upset because they needed to share the work with their manager, and now it was going to be late as it needed to be reworked. And the team member was upset because they had put their time, energy, heart and soul into the report, and now their work (and by extension, themselves) was being rejected.

"I don't know how this happened", the leader lamented. "I was so clear when I was explaining my expectations. I just don't know what how I could have been any clearer."

"How clear were you really?" I asked. "Did you share a template with the exact format you expected for the report? Did you work with them on the list of sections that the report needed to have, the order of the sections, and give them a written list of the exact topics that needed to be covered in each section? Did you let them know the minimum and maximum number of words...and what type and how many graphics were required? And did you check in with the team member throughout the time they were working on the report to make sure that the work that they were doing was what you "expected"?

"Of course not", replied the leader (with a shocked and horrified expression on their face). "That would be micromanagement!! I just told them that I needed a report on the topic to give to my manager, the date that it needed to be done by, and then I let them do their work. They should have known what I wanted."

"Well then", I said, "I guess during the hiring process, you gave them a test to see if they were a mind reader!"

The leader burst out laughing, and assured me that he did not. "No one can read minds", he chuckled."

"But that is exactly what you expected your team member to do", I said. "You had an idea in your mind, an expectation, of exactly what that report should like, what sections it should have, the graphics it needed, the length and the tone. And, you were disappointed when the report didn't meet your expectations. But how could it, if you know your team member isn't a mind reader, and you didn't give them specific instructions, so they could know exactly what was needed and how to create the expected outcome?"

The leader thought about it for a few minutes, and said, "I guess you are right. I shouldn't assume that what is clear to me, is clear to someone else. Explaining with more granularity and checking in to make sure someone is on the right track would have prevented this from happening in the first place."

And I agree.

People want to do their work correctly the first time. But they can't do that unless they know EXACTLY what to do, and how to do it. As a leader, you need to understand that setting clear expectations means telling (and often showing) people EXACTLY what is needed. You can do that by:

  • Creating a picture of what "good looks like", both the outcome and the steps of the process to create that outcome.

  • Making what is needed visible in a standard template or checklist and checking in to make sure that your team member is actually using the template or checklist!

  • Checking in frequently to see how the work is coming along. Correctly an error in the beginning will prevent the mistake from snowballing and creating a larger problem that is harder to correct.

It's not unkind or "micromanaging" to set clear expectations and tell the person who is doing work for you exactly what is needed and the best way to do the work. On the contrary. It is kind. Because it sets the person up for success and prevents heartbreak and frustration when the work they do when expectations aren't clear rejected.

Throughout the many years I've worked for companies and with companies, I've actually seen very few examples of true micromanagement. What I've seen is many, many, many examples of a lack of any type of management at all. I've seen team members who are discouraged and disengaged because their best efforts are never "enough" and managers and leaders who are frustrated and angry because although they seem to hire "good people" and "then get out of their way", the results they produce don't meet their "expectations".

Leaders and managers, please be kind!

Remember that you didn't hire mind readers, you hired workers. Please be as specific and clear as you can about what you expect their finished work to look like and how the work should be done most effectively and efficiently. Then you will have workers who are happy because you are happy with the work they are doing!

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