What Are You Expecting As A Leader?

Have you ever worked within a youth group? It’s an amazing experience. Teenagers and students bring such varied personalities to the table you never know what to expect.

One day everything is sunshine and roses. The next it’s doom and gloom.

It’s hard to keep your expectations positive at times.

I know this isn’t something that’s only experienced when working with youths. Adults can be just as finicky and have the same kind of mood swings.

Yet I think having positive expectations is key to leading well.

Having positive expectations changes situations. It changes people.

My wife and I have seen it first hand in dealing with the students in our youth group.

After having a rough night with the students, our expectations can easily drop. Then, when we come back the following week, we’ve brought those expectations with us.

Do you know what happens?

The students live up to our substandard expectation.

They act out. They are disrespectful. They could care less.

It’s strange how this works. People feed off of how you expect them to act or react. They can sense it.

Now, I’m not saying you’re totally responsible for the way your team reacts, but your expectations play a part in their attitudes.

How does this happen?

As we bring our negative expectations to a situation, we begin to look for the negative. We hone in on it. We take notice. And we give feedback on the negative actions we see.

It’s much like when you buy a new vehicle.

You go to the car dealership and purchase the macho black Dodge Ram with the Hemi engine. You haven’t noticed any on the road so you think you’re getting something unique.

But the moment you drive it off the lot you notice three black Dodge Rams driving towards you.

What happened?

Your focus shifted towards the new pickup truck you purchased. You now had a clear image of what you had and you were on the lookout for it.

When you go into situations with a mindset expecting negative reactions, you begin to notice them. Even if they’re no more prevalent than any other week.

You tend to get what you’re looking for. You tend to get the things you’re expecting.

Let’s make a commitment to change our expectations. Let’s start expecting our students will excel. Let’s start expecting our team will knock it out of the park. Let’s begin expecting that our spouse will take out the trash or cook a wonderful meal.

Question: What do you need to go into with a more positive expectation? What can you do to change your expectation? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • DS

    High expectations lead to high results. People tend to rise to the level of expectation given them. Both are different quotes I’ve heard related to what you’ve described. It’s something I certainly try to instill in my children, as well as Christians, and specific individuals I get to discuss this topic with.

    Some people describe this as a self-fulfilling prophecy – you get what you expect.

    Enjoyed the post Joe – good job!

    • Thanks David. This is something I really wish more people would latch onto. Our expectations set the level of excellence most of our team will perform at and how we will perform ourselves.

  • Great thoughts, Joe. I recently wrote a piece about Expectation. The image of the anticipation of Christ has always stuck with me. Here is Israel, waiting on a liberating army led by a white-horse King. And here comes Jesus on the colt of an ass, surrounded by misfits and nobodies. We have to be careful with our expectations; they are dangerous for our relationships and for the opportunities that are so easy to miss.

    Expectation is more a matter of perception than projection. But when someone picks up on your low expectations of them, it can certainly breed resentment and yield negative results.

    • Justin, I’ve never thought about it like that but, when you put it that way, I can see how the expectations didn’t meet reality. And, probably, affected the reasons why He wasn’t accepted. Man, this is something I’m going to have to ponder now!

      • Exactly. He had so much more for them than an Earthly kingdom or plot of land. In our relationships, we similarly limit those around us by shackling them with our own expectations of who they should be.

        I hesitate to post links on others’ sites, but here are my thoughts on “The Shackles of Expectation”: http://buckleadership.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/shackling-greatness/

        • Don’t hesitate to share here. I’m all for helping others share great content.

  • I think that, when working with youth, you should always praise them, and tell them how much you believe in them. They will eventually have their self-esteem raised and start believing in themselves.

    • True. Sometimes you are the only one giving them that praise and encouragement. There are too many negative home environments these days. Youth workers and volunteers have an incredible opportunity to positively impact kids.

      • I agree with you, one hundred percent! Many kids come from broken homes, abusive homes, homes where there is drug and/or alcohol abuse, etc…, and since “children learn what they live”, they NEED as much positive influence as they can get!

      • We’ve seen the negative impact of a bad home life while trying to expect the best. But we also know there’s a way to get through to them and help them rise to the challenge.

    • Lorraine, you’re on target with that. Too many of the students now adays don’t have that affirmation at home. With the work I’m doing with the students, it’s a few hours a week to get it into their heads that they’re valuable. A difficult but not impossible task.

  • So true, the way you think about situations affects the way you handle them. When I’ve had negative expectations its created terrible experiences. Positive is the best way to go even though its harder.

    • Great point Kimanzi.

    • Yes it is my friend. How do you stay positive when it’s easy to fall back into the negative?

  • I’m 6 years deep as a youth pastor. I have experienced the same thing that you are talking about here. But, as you said, when we look for and expect the best out of others, they will often rise to the challenge. Whether they say it or not, kids want to be respected. And when they feel their leaders are viewing them in a positive light, they will respond to that.

    • Sean, I’m glad you’ve seen it as well. It’s difficult to grasp because we don’t see the immediate results. How do you help your team realize this as well?

      • I’ve reinforced with my leaders that we are there for the kids to minister and serve. Sometimes we are the only light they encounter that day. So we are very purposeful in our attitude, actions, and conversations with the kids. This was reinforced when I had to “fire” a volunteer for consistent negativity. I expected some fallout, but my other leaders were very supportive of the choice.

  • people often rise to or stoop too our expectations.

    Good read!

    • Yes they do Ellory. This means we’ve got to be careful how we think and talk about others.

  • Currently I’m being sued by a credit card company on a debt I owe. For years, since my foreclosure, I’ve always expected to just get by, and I have. Now I realize I have to expect more of myself. I should expect to prosper and not expect to struggle. Just changing that perspective has helped my attitude towards the situation. I now expect to face this and it will be a lesson well learned and earned.

    • That’s awesome Sutton! Way to be a life changer. Have you done Financial Peace University?

    • Great mindset change Sutton. It’s right along the lines that Dan Miller and Dave Ramsey talks about. With this mindset change, I see great things coming your way.

    • Wow Sutton…thank you for sharing 🙂

  • I try to wake up with Andy Andrew’s 7 Decisions. If you haven’t heard of them, just Google Travel’s Gift. Amazing story of how these 7 decisions can alter your entire life.

    One of the decisions is to greet this day with a positive spirit. I do this by laughing in the mirror. This may sound ridiculous, but I find that after I laugh, I feel great about the day. Deciding each day to be positive is empowering. Give it a try!

    • Andy Andrews’ 7 decisions are an amazing way of thinking to implement. In fact, I did a series on the Traveler’s Gift and the decisions. Great book.

      That’s so cool you’ve found a way to greet the new day with a positive spirit. I can see how a hearty laugh in the morning can be a great way to start the day.

  • I tend to have extremely high expectations. I try to ask God to help me have not just realistic expectations but Godly expectations (for myself and others).

    It can be just as bad to have unrealistic/too high of expectations as it is to have negative expectations because people can begin to feel it’s hopeless to live up to such high expectations.
    Is that clear as mud?

    • TC, I can understand how unhealthy high expectations can also damage people. If what you’re expecting are things they cannot possibly obtain, not only will you feel let down but so will they. It’s a balancing act for sure but I think more people err on the side of negative expectations.

  • I volunteered with the Jr. High youth group, and I saw other volunteers experience the negative side of things – it’s easy to see this age group in a particular light, and then those expectations are reinforced.
    The car/truck style example is one I have used many times – very powerful! Thank you for laying out this topic.

    • My pleasure Jon. For me, it’s sad seeing other leaders view the students in a negative light. Sure, it’s easy to do so because young people make unwise choices all the time but we can’t let that stop us from seeing and encouraging their true potential.

  • I’ve thought about working with youth at church – but guess it is a little intimidating. I’m glad they have someone like you to look up to.

    • Tom, give it a shot! You won’t know the joys of youth leadership until you step into the role. The students could use someone like you to show them the right way to go.

  • I’ve been working with kids at Madison House, a local Union Gospel Mission program for kids 5-12. I’m just a volunteering parent, but I watch the teenage counselors and see that the ones who expect the kids to listen, behave, and participate are much more effective than the more passive ones. I think our personalities and attitudes have a lot to do with our expectations.

    • Dan, I’m with you about our personalities and attitudes affecting our expectations. However, we’ve got to move past them, especially if we have negative attitudes. We’ve got to create ways to create the positive expectations that people will do their best.

  • Those are good questions. I really don’t have an answer. Hope you don’t mind I’m gonna prowl around and see what everyone else has to say 😉

    • As a matter of fact, I do mind Mike. You can’t just prowl the comment section (-;

      Just playing. Hang around and see what others are saying. There’s some good stuff being said in the comments.

  • I need to be more positive about my expectations for some of my team members. They will not grow if I don’t expect them to. And they certainly won’t flourish if I have a negative expectation for their performance and productivity. HOPE is a key ingredient to leadership. I have to be realistic, but I also have to have HOPE for my team members and their future in the business.

    • Then go for it Jon! Raise the expectation level and encourage them to be what they were meant to be.

  • It depends upon the individual whether he want to or not to live up to your expectation. So, its better to motivate them as a leader to some extent but after that I think one should leave it upon the individual to decide what he wants.

    • In the end, it is up to the individual. But I think we have a much larger impact on their actions than we believe.

      With our youth students, you could clearly see the difference in the ways they would respond to different leaders. Different leaders, different expectations.