Just like a lighthouse shines to help sailors steer through dangerous waters, expectations help leaders effectively and efficiently steer team members through the challenges of everyday business.

“People require guidelines, structure, vision and accountability to succeed… People need to know they matter to an organization and that what they do makes a difference.” — Steve Keating, Lead Today

It’s too often assumed that leaders are aware of the expectations for their behavior, duties, and activities. This assumption leaves room for confusion and disorder. When leaders have clarity regarding these expectations, it reduces the potential for mistrust and negative leadership behaviors.

So, what are the three foundational expectations for a leader and why?

1. Know Your People

The most important expectation for a leader is to know their direct reports and ensure each direct report knows them. To truly know a team member, you must understand their current life, both inside the workplace and out.

Each leader needs to have read their “direct report’s book” as George S. Patton did to Erwin Rommel in North Africa during WWII. In The Performance Factor: Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork, Pat Macmillan explains how Patton studied his enemy to fully understand his strengths and weaknesses. This deep study enabled Patton to kick Rommel’s backside.

Obviously, those who work for us are not our enemies, but, as leaders, we need to study them to the same depth that Patton studied Rommel.

Why hold a one-on-one?

Full understanding can only happen through intentional and dedicated time. This time must occur frequently enough to allow for the development of a personal relationship.

One-on-ones are regularly scheduled meetings designed to encourage conversations, set expectations, and allow for the giving and receiving of feedback. In an article for the Gallup Business Journal, Kar Rohit listed the 12 attributes required to manage well. He gathered these attributes from thousands of interviews conducted across all levels in a variety of industries. Six can be accomplished during regular one-on-one communication:

  1. Communicating expectations to your team member
  2. Showing your team member that you care about them as a person
  3. Encouraging your team member’s development
  4. Discussing your team member’s strengths and how those strengths help fulfill the mission of the department and organization
  5. Discussing your team member’s progress on tasks, projects, and personal development
  6. Communicating learning and growing experiences through feedback

How long and often should you meet?

Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne lead an organization called Manager Tools which produces weekly audio podcasts focused on career advice and helping managers become more effective. They’ve found that a weekly cadence is the most effective frequency for one-on-ones. While this frequency can later be adjusted, beginning with weekly sessions is the best way to fully realize their benefits.

One-on-ones should last for a minimum of 30 minutes. This allows you to allot:

  • 10 minutes for your team member to discuss whatever they want
  • 10 minutes for you to speak
  • 10 minutes for a discussion on your team member’s development

Sticking to this schedule allows you time to get to know team members personally, understand what they’re currently working on, communicate new tasks, set or adjust priorities, give feedback, and receive feedback. For sample questions and an example of a one-on-one form, please view the graphic below.

The role of feedback

It’s imperative that you ask for feedback from your team members at every one-on-one. This demonstrates that you are invested in their continuous improvement, you also wish to improve, and that the opinion of each team member is important.

“We all have what is called ‘a fatal flaw.’ We can see these fatal flaws so clearly in others but not in ourselves.” — C.S. Lewis, How to Get Along with Difficult People

If you’re to continue improving as a leader, you must ensure you’re asking others, including both direct reports and peers, to offer feedback and share flaws. For information on The Fired-Up Culture Index®, which can also provide helpful insights, get in touch with our team!

Utilizing behavioral profiles

Another great tool for learning about your team is a behavioral profile. The DiSC Analysis is a behavioral assessment tool that centers on four personality traits:

  • Dominance
  • Influence
  • Conscientiousness
  • Steadiness

There’s a tremendous opportunity when team discussions are conducted during the verbal analysis portion of this survey. These discussions often result in increased trust, enhanced understanding, and an improved team dynamic.

The DiSC is a great segue to a more in-depth tool called the Clifton Strengths Finder Assessment. Offered by the Gallup Organization, it’s geared to develop an individual’s strengths and then put them to use. It’s been validated in the workplace by the Gallup Organization, with over 20,000 interviews with senior-level leaders.

Tom Rath and Barry Conchie shared the results of decades of research in their book, Strengths Based Leadership — Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. They found that, when an organization does NOT focus on team members’ strengths, its chance of having engaged team members is only 9%. However, when the same organization DOES focus on those strengths, its odds of having engaged team members go up to 73%.

When you are intentional about conducting this type of analysis:

  • Team members’ histories are often communicated in stories that might otherwise not be shared
  • You’ll uncover strengths and weaknesses within your team, which can then lead to gap training to assist in continual leadership growth
  • Trust and alignment within your department increases
  • Your team members end up possessing a clearer consideration of their long-term career plans and where they fit within the overall organization

2. Setting Goals and Accountability

As a leader, you should set goals and hold people accountable to those goals. Goals can be separated into professional and operational goals, both of which should be discussed and developed annually during personal evaluations.

Professional goals

Your team members’ professional goals should include objectives that assist them in growing their knowledge of their current position. They should also include targets outside their current roles, which are based on their greater career goals. These professional goals can include attending conferences, reading books, participating in strategy meetings, and/or other actions.

Operational goals

Operational goals, on the other hand, are short-term goals, or key performance indicators (KPIs), whose attainment moves an organization or department towards achieving strategic or longer-term goals. These are sometimes called “measurables” or metrics.

Metrics need to have targets or goals, so it’s clear when they’ve been accomplished. To encourage ownership, these targets should be crafted by the team and not just the leader. Operational goals may be solely dependent on one team member, or they might be part of an effort by the whole team.

Accountability is critical

“Accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction, which may not be pleasant.” — Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage — Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business

Patrick Lencioni is an author who writes about business management, particularly in relation to team management. He asserts that accountability is a “selfless act, one rooted in love” and “to hold someone accountable is to care about them enough to risk having them blame you for pointing out their deficiencies.” Leaders need, and will be expected, to hold their teams and individual team members accountable.

It’s simpler to hold someone accountable for quantifiable metrics because those are clear and unemotional. But, leaders are also expected to hold team members accountable for behavior. This can be more difficult because it involves emotions.

However, behavioral accountability is even more important than measurable accountability because behavioral problems almost always precede and cause a downturn in performance and results.

Though it is frequently uncomfortable, discussing areas where behaviors can be improved should be viewed as a positive activity necessary for continuous improvement.

3. Guide, Don’t Dictate

The final expectation for each leader is that they should be a team leader, rather than a traditional leader.

In MacMillian’s book, he discusses that “leadership in a team environment is all about serving, facilitating, and releasing rather than taking charge and being in control.” He describes how traditional leaders need to change in order to become team leaders. These changes include:

  • Setting clear direction
  • Managing boundaries
  • Facilitating challenges
  • Negotiating necessary team resources
  • Acting as a coach by being visible, listening, setting limits, shaping values, and stretching skills

One study from a higher education institution found that trust is commonly an area in which leaders face the biggest challenges. Specifically, poor delegation and communication and a lack of constructive feedback are challenges many higher education institutions face. But, these are all areas where employing one-on-one meetings could create improvements.

Trust is the foundation to an exceptional organization. It can only be achieved when an organization is made up of team leaders. This generation of team members cannot be led the same way as previous generations, with a traditional, top-down leadership philosophy. Team members today expect to be coached and mentored, something which the one-on-one meeting paradigm helps accomplish.

Putting It Into Action

When clear expectations of leadership are set and communicated, it ensures a high level of effectiveness and efficiency throughout an entire organization. Everything begins to run more smoothly because everyone is aligned in their goals, expectations, and visions for the organization’s future.

Begin at the top, ensuring that each leader knows what is expected of them. This process should include weekly one-on-ones, behavioral profiles, accountability, and coaching. Then, communicate and develop these expectations for each level of the organization.

Setting expectations is only part of an overall Talent Development Plan. Other initiatives contribute, including a defined organizational structure, succession planning, and more. To utilize expectations and lead well, you cannot have too many direct reports. Therefore, you will need a defined organizational structure that allows you to meet these expectations. What does this type of structure look like?

Find out in the next Foggy Leadership post!

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