“Your expectations are the source of my confusion”
That’s not exactly what you want to hear from one of your direct reports; not necessarily a ringing endorsement of your leadership style! But before we get into to some reasons for the statement and some tips for improving it, let’s set some context.
- My direct report felt comfortable saying it, and knew it would be feedback that would be appreciated and taken seriously and discussion would ensue about how to address it.
- My direct report felt comfortable enough saying it in front of the rest of my direct reports, knowing we have a trusting enough environment where we all know we are vulnerable and works in progress, and we can benefit from hearing about each other’s constraints.
- It was said in a strategic planning session, something the entire team can celebrate that we even have such time to gather as a group and think about how we can be the best team possible.
- The timing was perfect, as one of the main reasons to do a strategic plan and have planning sessions is to ensure that the entire team (not just my leadership team but the entire team) understands what we are trying to accomplish and how to carry out that vision through strategic initiatives; in other words, it’s all about aligning expectations.
OK back to the comment. I have a couple of tendencies that combine to put pressure on my team in trying to be our best and have a frictionless experience carrying out our strategies. First, I tend to be impatient and not properly assess the urgency of some things. I’m not the only one who suffers from “recency” bias – what happened most recently is the most important. But it is something we have to manage because long-term strategies can’t be cloudied or cast aside in the heat of the moment. And although I like to put structured communication processes so teams don’t have to get lost in endless email strings or react to the crisis of the moment, I don’t always live those processes. So I sometimes send my team on chases or get them distracted from the strategic path by giving them a task in the moment.
Second, I underestimate my presence. Again, not uncommon. I don’t realize that when I send an email many folks are going to think that is now the important thing, regardless of other strategies we have or other conversations we have had about our priorities. So I have to do a better job setting context. For example, simple things like saying “not urgent” in the title of an email if you don’t need an instant solution or reaction. Or explaining the context in the email, and whether you are asking for an immediate response or it’s something for a later discussion. Finally, you have to be flexible and willing to brainstorm with your team when they challenge whether the most recent thing you’ve asked for is most important, or whether something else can come off the list. Or as we say it on our team – be open to ruthlessly prioritize!
Back to the communication processes for a moment. It’s infinitely easier for your team to have a discussion with you in person. Versus an email. They often won’t take the time to challenge you on the importance of what you are asking, or seek additional context, in email. So you should always seek to use the 1-on-1 meeting times for those asks and meaningful discussions on where they fit in the bigger picture.
So I will be focused on this, and appreciate my team giving me real feedback to help me and to help us all grow as leaders and as a high performing team. Hopefully some of this helps you align expectations with your team too.