Just Starting Out! 7 Priorities for New Student Leaders (#6)

At the beginning of your student leadership year, you see the potential in everything.

You see the problems that plague the current student leaders as possibilities to make something better.
Your team is loaded with people who will do something greater than what’s been done before.
Your events will be bigger and better than what was offered last year.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard student leaders stand up at the beginning of their student leadership year and boldly state: This is going to be the best year ever!

I love the optimism that’s felt at the beginning. It is an exciting time of year. It’s exactly why this is the moment when a leader needs to raise the bar.

The sixth priority is to state your expectations.

I want to encourage you to do more than hope for the best. I want to challenge you to state expectations that each person on your team will reach for and work toward.

In order to achieve the goal of “the best year ever” you will need to expect greatness. When you expect greatness from someone, you set the stage for them to be great. You stretch their thinking. You help them raise the bar on what they see as possible for themselves. You force them to realize that playing small is not acceptable. And when you state expectations clearly and consistently, people usually rise to the occasion.

When it comes to expectations, I encourage you to consider the following:

1. State your expectations early.
By early I mean early. Right from the start. Gather your team and let them know what you expect of them. It’s ineffective to only state your expectations at the point when people fail to meet them. Be crystal clear about your expectations. Make sure they are realistic and reachable. Realistic expectations usually deal with things like quality, quantity, timeliness, methods, and costs.  Most of the conflicts your team experiences will come as a result of unmet expectations – yours or theirs.

2. Communicate your expectations often.
It’s not enough to state your expectations once. It’s not enough to write them down, pass them out, or post them on the wall. They must be continually communicated. People must also understand the “why” behind each expectation. Take time to explain the rationale. If you’re only reason is “because you said so” you’re probably more like a dictator then a leader. One of the best ways to communicate your expectations is to embody them yourself. If you only say it but you never do it you’re expectations will fall to the wayside quickly.

3. Just as you’ll have expectations of the people you lead, so they’ll also have expectations of you.
Everyone has expectations. That’s because everyone has a picture in their mind of how they want things to turn out and how they want to be treated. As you state your own expectations, it’s important to listen to the expectations of those whom you lead. Listening to the expectations of others helps you know where you stand with people. Some of the expectations you hear from others may not be realistic or even practical. They may be in conflict with the expectations you’ve set for your team. But at least you’re aware of them. One thing I’ve discovered is if you set your own personal expectations high, you will probably reach or exceed the expectations of others. If you expect excellence, your expectations will be higher than most.

4. Expectations must be managed daily.
Expectations are a form of accountability. By stating them early and managing them on a daily basis you challenge your team to function at it’s best. A team will begin to fragment when one or two of its members begin to function below the stated expectations of the group. Expectations also serve as a tremendous way to identify potential leaders. Leaders tend to rise to the challenge of higher expectations. Also, when people know what is expected of them and buy into it, they are able to partner with you in challenging others to aim high as well.

5. Sometimes enforcing expectations requires flexibility, sometimes firmness.
I mentioned the word “dictator” above. Effective leaders understand that some expectations can never be compromised, while others may be adapted along the way. The goal of expectations is for people as individuals and as a team to function at their highest level. There may be circumstances that require you to change an expectation because it’s no longer realistic or reachable. This is when a leader understands that failure to achieve an expectation is backed by a solid reason and not merely an excuse. Unrealistic and unreachable expectations can kill the morale of any team.

One of the ways you know your expectations are reasonable is if they align well with your vision, your goals, and the potential of your team. An expectation as simple as “be on time to meetings” will move you forward in all of those areas. An expectation of “submit a five-page report at each weekly meeting” may stall any chance at success you have and frustrate your team members.

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