Possible is more a matter of attitude, A matter of decision, to choose Among the impossible possibilities, When one sound opportunity Becomes a possible solution. ~Dejan Stojanovic
The word “expect” comes from the Latin word expectare. “Ex” meaning “thoroughly” and “spectare” meaning “to look.” Etymologically speaking, to expect something means to look for something with intention. Many of the most ancient texts have some version of “seek and you shall find, ask and it will be given, do not seek and you shall not find.” We all greet every day with expectation of ourselves and others. The question I want to explore is the quality of those expectations and how they are impacting both outcomes at work and our experience of the larger world.
The Pygmalion Effect
It is important to understand the underlying psychology of the power of expectations because left unchecked expectations, both positive and negative, can become self-fulfilling prophecies. In its simplest form, the Pygmalion Effect demonstrated through a series of experiments, that the greater the expectation placed on a person or a team, the better they perform. Conversely, if there is someone present (or a team) in our work life that we expect will perform poorly, in many cases, our expectations play a role in keeping that person or team from succeeding.
This matters because as leaders, our expectations have a direct impact on performance and results. While this may sound obvious on many levels, it is important to examine how we as leaders manage our own expectations and how we then project expectations onto those we lead. It is perhaps one of the most powerful tools in expanding choices and options available to us and others as we engage in the world of work every day.
Peeling Back The Onion of Expectation
At a subconscious level, we demonstrate whether we have positive or negative expectations about ourselves and others through our actions every day. Here are some questions to take inventory and see where some sticking points may be.
First, it is important to start with ourselves. Take a few moments to explore verbally, in writing or in your thoughts, are my expectations for myself and my life overwhelmingly positive or negative on a daily basis? Do I expect wellness or illness? Do I expect joy or pain? Do I expect that I am enough or do I fall short? Do I expect excitement or stress? Do I expect to succeed, or do I worry I will fail?
Going back to the etymology, what do I thoroughly look for from myself in terms of expectations for the majority of my day?
Give yourself whatever time you can to reflect internally before turning the attention on others. As we all know from parents, teachers, coaches or bosses we have had in our lives, what we think about ourselves impacts what possibility we see or don’t see around us.
The Power of Expectations In Leading Others
Take some time now to answer the following reflection questions in a way that captures your thinking:
When I think about my colleagues, senior leaders, and the people I lead, who comes to mind immediately as those people or teams I expect the most positive things from every day?
When I think about my colleagues, senior leaders, and the people I lead, who comes to mind immediately as those people or teams I expect negative things from every day?
What can I do today to combat the negative expectations because I own that my expectations have a role in the outcomes I see?
Think about whether you have taken as much time communicating positive expectations with an underperforming person or team as you have with people and teams you expect to be great. Have you focused on achievements, no matter how small to turn the negative tide? Have you spent time listening to understand and asking for feedback to see what people or teams that are underperforming may need?
Universal Reason to Pay Attention to Expectations
In the rather unpredictable world we work and live in today, the goal for us as leaders and as humans, is to have the most choices and options available to us for solutioning when obstacles arise. When we feel anxious or frustrated when negative things happen, we move into survival and resort to our own coping patterns, and leading takes a back seat. HeartMath explains that when we experience stress and negative expectations, our heart rhythm becomes disorderly and erratic and corresponds with neural signals which inhibit cognitive functions like thinking clearly and making effective decisions.
Conversely, HeartMath explains that when we are in a state of positive expectation, our hearts input is more stable and it facilities stability of cognitive function. If we can take the time to set positive intentions for interactions before they happen, even if major obstacles arise, our positive anticipation will mean that we can stay open to collaboration and creative problem solving meaning we will get where we intend to go faster and with more ease. This positivity is also boundless and will open doors that were not even visible prior to coming into an interaction with positive intent.
As Stojanovic a Slovenian professional footballer stated, it is a decision and a choice that we have to make every day in order for “one sound opportunity to become a possible solution.”
There’s an old Irish saying: If you don’t use your power, it will leave you for someone who will. ~ Frank Delaney
How will you wield this power you are given?