Leadership Lessons to Live By: Lower Your Expectations


Too often, leaders hold high expectations — both for themselves and for those around them. Expectations that are set too high often lead to disappointment and frustration. This kind of friction is never healthy for an organization or for the leader. Sometimes, leaders need to lower their expectations.

Why Should We Lower Our Expectations?

Lowered expectations?! This sounds like a step backwards in leadership, not a step forward. Here’s the rub. Take stock of your expectations. What do your expectations often have in common? They are expectations of personal fulfillment (selfishness), rather than others-focused fulfillment (service).

If leadership is servanthood, which is the way that the Bible describes it, then our expectations of people should center around how we can serve them not the other way around.

To illustrate, think about a marriage relationship. The husband, Bob, is excited about getting married. His bride, Betty, is attractive, talented, smart, and charming. A few months into the marriage, however, Bob is disappointed. He expected from Betty a constant romantic sizzle, consistently delicious meals, never a snide remark or careless comment, a high level of charm, and for Betty to always be looking her best. Bob’s expectations were high. But Bob’s expectations were also extremely self-focused. His marriage expectations — an impossible burden for Betty to bear — were all about himself, his satisfaction, his appetites, and his happiness. In this fictional marriage illustration, selfish expectations began to breed a spirit of frustration, contempt, and eventual failure.

Analyze Your Expectations

The same thing can happen in leadership. You expect to lead people who are motivated, creative, willing to follow, helpful, kind, and cheerful. You expect that your team will help you achieve your expectations of a huge world-changing organization. You expect your people to follow through on tasks with punctuality, thoroughness, and perfection. Fair enough. But where’s the allowance for failure? Where is the concession that perhaps they may not achieve? Where is the understanding for challenging times, personal discouragement, and inconsistent behavior?

Take stock of your expectations, and find out if they are truly others-focused, or if they are self-focused. It will make a huge difference in the way you lead.

What Happens to Your Expectations Now?

The concept of lowering one’s expectations goes against the grain of most leadership advice. Leaders are encouraged to have high expectations and to aim for the sky. Motivational psychologist declare that the only way to push people to a higher level is to have high expectations of them.

All of this may be true. When we take a realistic look at human nature and the challenges of daily life, there is a certain way in which lowered expectations can become an advantage to our leadership. Here is how to do it.

  1. Lower your expectations, without losing your hope in people.
  2. Lower your expectations, without decreasing your encouragement of people
  3. Lower your expectations, without giving up your respect for people.

Christian leaders can maintain high expectations as they pray with confidence for their personal success and the progress and growth of those whom they lead. Our God is all-powerful. In any relationship, however, lowering our expectations of the other person may be a powerful way to succeed.

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