Expectation [Definition]

‘A strong belief that something will happen or be the case.’

Expectations matter. They are powerful. The classic research by Rosenthal and Jacobson in 1968 demonstrated this well. A group of teachers were told that some of their students had been identified as having the potential to become very high achievers, ‘intellectual bloomers’, in fact these students had been chosen completely at random. When the researchers returned at the end of the year they found that those chosen students had made, on average, significantly more progress. The importance of the study cannot be understated.

Evidence of what we tell others and ourselves can clearly become reality.

Whether we think you can or you think you can’t your probably right’ –Henry Ford

However, expectations can become our enemy. High expectations are not always better. If expectations become unrealistic or exceed someone’s experience it can lead to a downturn in performance as well as an increase in stress and anxiety. Recent research by Gallup discovered that the primary culprit behind employee stress were unclear expectations.

The Goldilocks rule applies to expectation; not too little or too much – we need to get the balance just right.


There are four important steps to ensure expectations work for you and not against you.

Step One: Think about the Timing.

Research shows that the greatest effects of high expectations are most pronounced at the start of the academic year or at the beginning of a new task or topic. This is because people start a project with an open mind and are more flexible. People look for guidance on what can be achieved. Set expectations early.

Step Two: Be attentive to the reality

We need to pay more attention to our reality. We feel frustration and stress if there is a large gap between our reality and our expectations. As a leader it’s important to think carefully about your expectations and where they are best placed. Focus on the most important things and align them with the reality. Perfection is not achievable but achieving the very best is. Make sure your expectations are clear. It will be difficult to build high expectations with others if you don’t know what they are first.

Step Three: Raise your expectations for achievement

The way people think about themselves has a big impact on the way they behave. One study had participants spend five minutes thinking about the attributes of a college professor before answering questions from the game Trivial Pursuit. The results? These participants answered more correct answers than those who had not been primed with thinking like a professor. We need to raise our expectations of what is possible.

Step Four: Be clear and precise

After you have secured your expectations, ensure they are conveyed clearly with explicit boundaries. If you want to ensure high expectations be specific about what is acceptable and what is not. Communicate these openly, agree the principals and manage them carefully to ensure consistency.



Ultimately expectations can have a huge influence on an organisation positively or negatively. Make sure your use of expectations carefully.   Focus on where high expectations will have the greatest impact, align them with reality  and share these clearly with your team. If you want to explore your expectations book a FREE coaching session with us.



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