Establish Clear Expectations

                One common theme among people in positions of leadership (at least those with compassion) is the uncomfortable feeling regarding negative conversations.  When I say negative conversations, I mean bad reviews or firing someone.  These are tough talks to have with a team member because the leader has to be the bad guy.  Delivering positive news and rewards is fun and enjoyable, while undesirable feedback or terminations are certainly not.  Not to say that some team members are just not the right fit for the team and need to find another opportunity.  I find terminations are tough because I think about the impact it will have not only on the person but on their entire family as well.  I get frustrated when a team member’s behavior or attitude directly impacts his or her family in that manner.  On the flip side, the team member may (almost guaranteed) feel frustrated or angry as well. So what can we as leaders do in these situations?

                My philosophy is to try to stop the reactive environment by using a proactive message and manage expectations.   The beginning of a working relationship is the best time for leaders to spell out their expectations of team members.  The team members are receptive at that time and willing to assimilate to the team.  The early discussions of the working relationship should not be only one way from leader to team member; the team member has expectations as well.  It is important for leaders to understand what their team members are looking to them for in regard to support (if the team member knows).  With that kind of reciprocal information, leaders then have a starting point as to the level of communication or feedback desired by the team member.  If the expectations are clearly laid out ahead of time, any contradictory behavior later can be dealt with easier.  The conversation is less emotional when everyone is clearly aware of the rules.  It is more of a conversation about what the consequences of the adverse behavior will be rather that arguing about the validity or understanding of the rules.   

                One thing to keep in mind is the early conversations regarding expectation may seem like micro-managing or controlling, and in some respects they are.  However, there can be quite a bit of freedom and trust given once the initial guidelines are established and agreed upon.  Watch children at play. Once you give them the boundaries and the rules, you can turn them loose to be as creative as they want to be.  This does not mean a teacher doesn’t have to monitor the playground, but all the children can have a much better time if everyone plays by the rules!

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team


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