One of my favorite things to do is watch failure happen. That doesn’t sound very leader-like, does it? I’m not saying I like to trip toddlers or give team members impossible assignments. But how we handle failure is an immediate barometer of our leadership.
Were you expecting an Expectation, Part 2? Joke’s on you. Or me, since I felt led to explain the title-joke.
Here’s the deal: expectations are sometimes healthy. We expect certain things: good service for a fair price, excellent service for a little more; an honest effort and decent grades from our kids; respect and teamwork from our coworkers.
Certain expectations, though, destroy opportunities.
I have used the example of Jesus’s Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem to illustrate the danger of expectations. It wasn’t wrong for the people of Jerusalem to get their hopes up. In their excitement, though, they missed the whole point.
People on both sides of the Messiah argument knew what Jesus was “supposed” to do. They crammed him into their “Messiah,” “Prophet,” and/or “Heretic” boxes. The high priests and elders weighed and judged him, the young Jewish politicians clamored for a mighty deliverer from their earthly oppressors.
But he disappointed them all.
Even Pontius Pilate, one of my favorite New Testament characters, failed the test of Expectation. Believing he had the perfect solution, that perhaps he would save Jesus, Pilate put a no-brainer decision to the people expecting a rational answer. Who should go free: the notorious murderer or wandering miracle man?
But they disappointed him.
Opportunities are destroyed when we expect:
- Who He or She Should Be: It’s OK to expect a certain level of performance out of team members and friends. But when we try to fundamentally alter someone’s personality or trade out their strengths or hammer down their weaknesses, we’re wasting both parties’ time. Disappointment awaits! Get to know your team or group of friend’s strengths and play to those. You never know when your organization’s next visionary leader is sitting right in front of you. And you never will if you stifle her talents and shoot down her dreams.
- What They Will Say: Too often we try to get our way or fulfill our own expectations by manipulating others. We manufacture buy-in through one means or another. Sometimes we’re so confident of our influence that we resort to the madness of wholly-democratic decision-making. When it comes to your vision, you’ve got to create genuine buy-in, and it must come from you. When it’s time to do the right– not the popular– thing, you’ve got to get the people behind the decision, not hitch the outcome to a coin-toss.
Shocked, the disciples fled a crowd that had days earlier swept Jesus into town in a raucous parade. Incredulous, Pilate washed his hands and turned over an innocent man.
In both cases, it was the arrogance of certainty that turned expectation into a deadly disease. Jesus must be this or that. The masses must punish a heinous criminal.
Don’t allow that same spirit to come over your encounters with new team members or friends. Humble your heart with the knowledge that there is still much to learn.
Don’t shackle greatness with your lousy expectations.
Recently, scientists confirmed the type of paint Picasso preferred. He used this same paint to become one of the most famous painters in history and secure his place as the most influential painter in the modern era. What was the secret sauce? Common house paint!
The lesson here isn’t hard to spot. Picasso took something ordinary and created extraordinary art. The same stuff I have a hard time keeping off my trim graces the walls of the world’s finest art galleries and museums!
Picasso isn’t alone. Everyday items become powerful tools in the right hands. We can all use the ordinary to create extraordinary work by realizing:
- Starving Your Talent is a Mistake: Sometimes, we are too timid to dive into developing a talent. We’re comfortable in our jobs, we’re set in our routines. We starve our natural talents. Before you quit your job and become a “starving artist,” find a way to responsibly explore your natural talents.
- Even Limited Resources Are Resources: I am often tempted to dismiss projects before they have a chance. “We don’t have the resources,” I whine. If Picasso can paint masterpieces with common house paint, you can craft a marketing campaign with free outlets like social media and word of mouth.
- Your Greatest Resource is YOU: The “secret sauce” to great success is a driven individual or team making it happen. Whether you have the materials you need or the support you covet is immaterial. Whether you have a contagious passion is paramount to success! If you believe in your project, you can believe in yourself. Invest in developing your talents so that you can confidently drive a team to succeed.
- Even Great Resources Can’t Guarantee Great Results: My father hit a home run. He had found an eBay auction for an emerging web server/hosting company who was offering unlimited reseller rights to their services. They had great tech support and offered top-notch service. There were only two problems: they hadn’t set a reserve and their marketing was terrible. Consequently, Dad scored unlimited reseller rights for $30 per month. The earning potential is unlimited! …for someone who knows how to run the thing. His unlimited-everything jackpot is being used to park his domains. If you don’t have the know-how to use great resources, they don’t amount to much.
- We Choose Our Own Means: Art historians have long thought that Picasso might have used common house paints. He used “inferior” resources on purpose! Apparently, he was among the first to begin doing so, creating a flat appearance that didn’t show brushstrokes. Picasso knew how to use the paints he chose. You must use the resources that fit best with your own purpose and your own talents.
Whether you’re an artist or a data analyst, you can produce amazing results, even with basic resources. As you develop your talents and demonstrate your ability, others will recognize and invest in your efforts.
One Question for the Comments: What resource challenge have you overcome with a creative solution?
Sometimes, people don’t want to tell us what they need. Maybe they’re embarrassed or afraid. Maybe they simply don’t know. Regardless of their reasons, most people let their needs go unspoken and, consequently, unmet.
As I meet with families at the end of a loved one’s life, there is often more baggage to unpack than our time together will allow. While I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist, I can generally sense when there’s something unresolved that may hinder a healthy grieving journey.
You can sense it, too. When a customer seeks your product or service, you know he or she doesn’t just need a widget or to enjoy your company. They have unspoken needs that drive them to seek you out.
Find these unspoken needs by:
- Building Trust: It takes more than expertise to bring down walls and barriers. Gain trust by genuine dedication to the best interests of your client, advocating for his or her needs, validating his or her feelings, and humanizing yourself. Follow through on your promises, make personal guarantees, and always be honest.
- Using Low-Risk Probes: I often start arrangement conferences with a general question: “What did Mom like to do with y’all when you were kids?” “What were Dad’s hobbies or passions?” “What’s the first memory of Mom that comes to mind?” These are low-risk questions or requests that not only help me get to know Mom or Dad but also can uncover regrets or injuries a family may need to deal with. You can use general, low-risk probing questions to begin conversations or exchanges that uncover unspoken needs.
- Speaking to the Experience: Unless you want your interaction and relationship with your clients to be short-lived, your conversation can’t focus merely on the short-term. By speaking to the broader experience rather than to the time-limited interactions you may have, you are promising the client that you’re in for the long-haul, interested in his or her long-term satisfaction. Additionally, a broader view of the experience will require that you step out of your role as salesperson and pull together the intangibles that make your service successful without necessarily including monetary gain.
- Letting Them Know It’s Ok to…: People sometimes require permission to grieve. I remember the first time I was bold enough to offer someone such permission. A thirty-something woman was seeing her father for the first time after his passing. Stiff-lipped, she refused to let a tear break the brim of her eyelids. In the past, I might simply have stood in the corner, silently waiting for the discomfort to pass. This time, though, I stepped forward, making myself available. “I told him I wouldn’t cry. I told him I’d be strong for the kids,” her voice quaked. “The kids aren’t here now. It’s just you and your Daddy. And it’s OK to cry.” She was waiting for permission, for validation. When a client reveals their needs, sometimes it’s all they need.
- Make Thoughtful Recommendations: Once you’ve uncovered the unspoken needs of your client, be brave enough to put yourself out there by making thoughtful recommendations and suggestions. You’re the expert…right? If you believe it, you should be confident enough to assess the needs of your client and make suggestions. What we’ve tried to do at our funeral firm is go from “Order Takers” to “CARE Takers”. Take your time, name the needs of your client, and act on them.
The last step is the most important; without meeting unspoken needs, uncovering them is useless. But when we meet the unspoken needs of our customers, guests, or clients, a deeper relationship is formed that goes beyond sales metrics. Seeking this kind of impact takes us back to our own unspoken need in the workplace: to connect our products or services with a need in the community and do work that matters.
In the comments: What keeps you from making thoughtful recommendations? Are you afraid to help your clients face their own fears?