Personal Professionalism and Powerful Expectations

Personal Professionalism and Powerful Expectations

Being professional is to meet, beat or re-set expectations placed on you in your work-role.

It makes sense, then, that as a manager you take the time to set expectations with your team that they can meet, beat or re-set themselves and in doing so display their undoubted professionalism.

To be clear, expectations are about performance and bearing in the work-role. Therefore, they encompass objectives and deliverables but extend also to quality, personal demeanor, insight to context and purpose, contribution to success, working autonomously-but-in-a-team as well as all the specific requirements of the work-role.

Setting expectations is not exactly easy, but they are essential. Ideally, they are set based on the purpose of each person’s work-role, taking into account each person’s capabilities, capacities and experience.

Expectations give clarity and certainty to you and your team members. They underpin agreement of performance, and a covenant that takes into account what each person will do and how you will support them; a covenant beyond the merely transactional and into the professional.

The tricky bit is what comes next. Living your expectations. Living them to the extent that you are genuinely surprised if a person does not at least meet them but also being truly delighted when those expectations are surpassed.

As a manager and a leader, it’s essential to project your expectations through your actions, your behaviours and your words. It also means that your business and operational processes support expectations and don’t undermine them (a recent example springs to mind of a company insisting on working across boundaries but their IT platform, business processes and even their SLAs stopped anyone from being able to do anything but work in their own silo!)

All of which leads me to Zheng Li, who is a PhD student at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. She has written a fascinating dissertation about the effect of teacher expectations on their students. In a nut, students in her sample performed better under teachers who held higher expectations for them. The dissertation is not yet available and I can’t wait to read it in more detail.

But what has been released so far is fascinating.

The teachers’ high expectations were grounded in their beliefs about education and “self-efficacy”, which I take to mean the belief that people can learn and achieve.

The lesson that extends to managers and leaders in organisations is related to this direct quote: teachers’ “behaviours, depending on their expectations, led to different instructional and socio-emotional environments in classrooms”. And also “students with high expectation teachers were provided more frequent, more challenging and more rewarding learning opportunities and they were sharing a more friendly relationship with their teachers than students with low expectation teachers”.

As managers and leaders, we need to know down to our core beliefs that people are capable of achieving great things. If this is our starting assumption, we will portray and project expectations through our behaviours and interactions with our teams. Our exchanges with our teams will be based on the belief that they will do what they agreed to when objectives were established – that is, that they will meet expectations.

If this study can be translated to other work environments, it suggests that our people will rise to the challenge and meet those expectations. How much more pleasing as a leader of people can it be than when those people succeeded with our support and belief?

This is not only a fluffy, feel-good message. The reality is that some people will not succeed all the time– I dare say most of us have been in that position ourselves. The ‘high expectations’ teachers will not give a pass mark to a student in order to feel good – if the student fails, they’ll get a fail mark. If a team-member fails to meet expectations, then you have something objective to review performance against, and the reasonable belief that in every other way, the team-member was set up to succeed, through the support of a supportive ‘socio-cultural’ workplace environment.

Despite that, the message is overwhelmingly positive.

Zheng Li hopes that her work will inspire all teachers to “become high expectation teachers for the sake of all their students’ success.”

It’s my hope that all managers and leaders will become high expectation managers and leaders for the sake of their teams.

The press release for Dr Zheng Li’s dissertation is here:


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