How to Effectively Set Expectations for your Team

By:  Sheeba Varghese, PCC

Expectations are set every day on many levels of leadership, yet, how many of us have experienced the concerns of, “I keep saying the same thing and they don’t seem to get it!” or it can be “I am not sure what he/she wants.”  People flounder when they don’t know what to expect and leaders limit their influence when they cannot share their expectations effectively.

When providing leadership development support to executives, it is important for me to help them understand when and how to set expectations. You may believe this to be trivial, but in the life of a leader this is a critical part not only to their success, but also within the spheres they are called to lead.


What is an ‘expectation’ in the world of leadership?

In the book called, The Sherpa Guide: Process Driven Executive Coaching by Brenda Corbett and Judith Coleman, an expectation is described as the communication of an important project, task or goal that requires some level of action from someone other than yourself to achieve a desired result.

When do you create an expectation?

An expectation is created when there is something that needs to get done that is NOT yours to do. Yet, leaders will end up doing it themselves, because they don’t have the energy or time to repeat their expectations, or the result of what they have received does not reflect what they have in mind. The challenge is when this loop continues, the leader ends up overwhelmed, tired and surrounded by people who are not developed and ill-equipped.

So, consider the project, goal or task that you have and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this new?
  2. Has something changed?
  3. Is it urgent and thus needs immediate attention?
  4. Is it producing low results?

If you have answered yes to any one of these questions, then it is a good time to create an expectation.

However, prior to setting any expectation, it is wise to use parts of the acronym that many of us use:

SMART goals:

  1. Is the expectation realistic given the time frame?
  2. Are the people equipped with the resources and skills to complete what is expected of them?
  3. Given what is already on their plate, is there capacity to get it completed?

Leaders, you must be able to answer these questions and if you are not able to do that, then it would behoove you to ask those to whom you are about to share your expectations for their input.

It is not only important to know when to create an expectation, but it is also important to know how to create expectations:

  1. Share the importance of the expectation and include how it might relate to the overall vision.
  2. Be clear about the details: time, dates, etc.
  3. Check for understanding by asking your team, your direct report or anyone you are sharing your expectations with about what they are taking away from the conversation.
  4. Allow for dialogue that uncovers blind spots, learning, next steps, and additional resources that might be needed.
  5. Create accountability by discussions check in times, due dates, etc.
  6. Explain the outcome or consequences of what happens when the expectation is and is not completed.

Leaders, you will have greater levels of success when you are able to create expectations that are clear, concise and considerate of the ones whom you lead.



For a consult with Sheeba about how to apply this information to setting your own expectations with your team, contact us today.