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What did you expect?

What did you expect?

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

William Shakespeare

Expectation is also the root of all disappointment.

I have never seen “Clairvoyant” on any job description. There are cases where team members seem to be able to read the mind of the leader, but these are the exception. Many leaders I have worked with are convinced that they are communicating clearly with their teams, but the team has no idea what they want. Leaders can easily exasperate their teams, and teams can frustrate their leader.

One of the easiest ways to improve communication is to clarify expectations around decision-making. 

Here are 5 basic levels of decision-making that you need to communicate with your team:

  1. A decision that only you can make.
  2. A decision that a team member can make, but only after consulting you.
  3. A decision that a team member can make on their own, but they must inform you what they have decided.
  4. A decision that a team member can make and they don’t need to tell you about it.
  5. A decision that the team makes together.

You will have people on your team whose motto is “Better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission”, and you will have people on your team who never want to make a decision on anything.  Both of these need to be managed.

In a previous blog we looked at perspective. Your function as a leader is to enable your team to do their job, but it is problematic when your team makes decisions without a broader perspective, and that you are accountable for. The balancing act is managing those who are too eager to make decisions, and those who won’t.

You might be hesitant to get too picky about rules. This is not a heavy-handed laying down of the law. This is just clear communication and defining boundaries. Whatever is not clear will create confusion and frustration.

I devote whole chapters to some of the topics below, but here is a summary of some of your expectations that will probably need a discussion with the team.


You have to be clear about the amount of information you require from them? In what format do you want that information? What information do they need from you? What information needs to go to just you, and what information needs to go to the whole team?

Means of communication

Is a verbal discussion appropriate or must discussions and decisions be confirmed in writing? Email, text or verbal – and when is each appropriate? Word to the wise: Never deal with high-stakes conversations and conflict on text.

Dress code

What are you comfortable with? What are the company guidelines? Are there different requirements for different situations?

Work times

What is more important to you – your team getting the job done, or the team being at their desks on time? What about working remotely or from home?


“They hire you for your aptitude, and they fire you for your attitude.” Be clear with your team what behaviour you require towards each other, towards you, and towards clients and stakeholders. What are your standards regarding honesty, transparency and integrity? 


What are your expectations regarding working together and collaboration? What are your expectations regarding skill, knowledge and experience sharing? Do you demonstrate in your behaviour what you expect from them?

Handling conflict

Conflict in a team is inevitable. As a leader, resolving conflict is one of your core functions. The clearer your guidelines are for handling conflict the quicker things will be addressed and resolved.

Roles and Responsibilities

Simply put, every team member needs to know exactly what their roles are, and what they are responsible for or accountable for.


What are your expectations regarding the team and their contribution in meetings? My starting place is that if someone is in a meeting then they will be required to engage and contribute. If they are not required to do this then they should not be in the meeting, unless they are learning.

Personal development

What role do you and the company play in each team member’s personal development? What are their expectations? What do you expect from them? Do you manage the process, or are they expected to do this? What role does HR play? What are your goals for them, and what are their goals for themselves?

Resource planning

How is leave handled? Who makes the decision regarding leave? How far in advance must requests be made? How do they apply for leave or days off? 

Keep a notebook handy

These are just a few examples to help you manage expectations. Keep a notebook handy so that if you think of things that need clarification with your team you can jot them down, or you can just ask Siri to remind you.

Written by Doug Johnson

Published on 1st Jul 2020

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