I talked to a friend this week who was frustrated at her new job. She feels that there are so many new directives being put on people, the demands are seemingly too high, and the leadership seems disconnected from the reality of what everyone working for them is feeling.
In this conversation, there is an important lesson of leadership that I think we often overlook — you can only push people as far as the relationship that you have built with them. Relationships are built on trust and caring, and if people do not see that you trust and care for them, they will consistently fail to meet the high expectations set for them.
When we have high expectations but fail to connect with the people around us, the environment and standards that are set will always seem excessive and unattainable. High expectations, without relationships, mean that you are trying to control people and outcomes, neither of which are yours to control. People control themselves, and outcomes are determined by the process you put into them. This type of environment causes considerable stress, as people feel like they can never live up to the demands.
Leaders with high expectations and little connection to those they serve may be successful in the short term, but they will never build anything that matters. To lead, you must have high expectations and care deeply about those you serve. You must always care more about who people are than what they do. There must be very high levels of connection, and appropriate levels of expectation.
Building strong relationships first does not mean you do not hold people to high standards. It just means the expectations come after the relationship. People will perform in an environment where they feel valued, trusted, respected, and loved. Once they are connected, then the expectations will be met.
I want to make sure I am clear on the following point. When I say leadership, I am talking about the way you lead your school, classroom, team, or home life. Wherever you are the leader in charge; teachers in your school, students in your classroom, players on your team, or people in your personal life will all rise up to expectations you set for them if they know that you deeply care about them first. The best principals, teachers, coaches, or parents I know have a high level of connection with those around them. Appropriately high expectations can then be built on this relationship. People will thrive and perform at a high level when they are connected and cared for by the leader.
If there are areas in your life where you are not getting what you expect from those that you lead, you need to examine the relationships you have built before you examine the expectations being met. Think about this as you go throughout the next week, take an honest look at who you feel is or is not meeting your expectations, and then examine the relationship you have created with those you feel are falling short.