3 Problems with Unspoken Expectations


I was talking with a youth pastor recently. He was experiencing tremendous disappointment in his current position. He felt he was doing everything well, but his pastor never seemed pleased with his progress. As we talked, it became clear to me that he and his pastor had different expectations of what makes a healthy youth ministry, but the youth pastor was uncertain what it would take to make the pastor happy. Unless the two of them get on the same page, this youth pastor is destined for many disappointing days ahead.

This is not a unique scenario. In fact, if I’m not careful, this is one struggle I can have in leadership. I have seen many leaders, including myself, who hold people accountable for a high level of success, but are never clear on what the success they are seeking even looks like. It’s hard to hold someone responsible for meeting an expectation you’ve never given them.

There are three problems with having unspoken expectations as a leader:

Expectations are misunderstand – Many leaders assume everyone will come to the same conclusion they would, so they fail to give adequate direction. If left unspoken, the senior leader’s expectations are never met and team member’s remain confused and frustrated.

Expectations are never met – The team member will make up the expectations when not made clear. That’s okay when the leader delegates this task but when the leader has defined expectations, but they are never made clear, a team member has no choice but to move forward on their own.

Everyone is disappointed - One of the hardest times for a leader is watching his or her team or organization suffer through mediocre results. One of the most frustrating times for a team member is realizing they aren’t living up to potential or that they aren’t appreciated on the team. Both sides lose when expectations aren’t made clear.

If you want your team to achieve the expectations you have for it make sure the team knows clearly what’s expected of them. Don’t assume they read your mind. If you are not sure how to make sure they understand you, read THIS POST.

Have you worked for someone who didn’t give you clear expectations of what they expected? Tell me about it.

Leaders, how do you make sure your team understands what you expect? Share your secrets.

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

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12 thoughts on “3 Problems with Unspoken Expectations

  1. It seems as though it has been taboo to import workplace practices into a church setting. Something like this might smack of that. However, not recognizing and making this a priority [as well as other things that contribute to a healthy work environment] feels as though we are not being accountable stewards. As leaders [whether in the secular or sacred work environment] we ought constantly to ask ourselves, "how can I strengthen and support my peers?"

  2. Wonder why the world, at times, seems to be better at clearly defining expectations than the church? Could it be that we are really afraid of the truth of our expectations? I mean the 'truth' of a situation may not be as easy to deal with or address as we are trained in church that it should be.

    After being in youth ministry for over 10 years and experiencing the exact same scenario you described here…I realized that I was NEVER given a clear picture of what the pastor defined as success. Success for my pastor was really butts in pews (or in our case stack-able chairs) and dollars in offering plates…yet, he defined it as "transformed lives".

    Now, had it been honestly defined up front, I would have known that there would be misunderstanding and frustration. I think most leaders need to get honest with themselves about their definition of success before they can possibly communicate clear expectations to others.
    It is actually easier to draw a crowd than to create an environment of community where lives can be transformed by the ONLY ONE who can transform a life.
    Thanks for your insight and honesty in this article.

  3. I often observe how most disappointment and dissatisfaction comes from expectations that are based on our assumptions which are usually wrong. When i go to see a movie or i go to a new restaurant, I anticipate really good things or else i wouldn't go. I am there because a friend told good things or i saw an ad somewhere that was positive and glowing, so my expectations are high.

    This seems to be the problem. Not the service or the product but my expectations. If companies could define more realistically what someone can expect ( employee, customer) than satisfaction would improve alot.

  4. I have worked with unclear expectations and it is frustrating to say the least. I would ask for feedback and would get the response, everything is good. Keep doing what you are doing. Then get chastised for continuing to do it.

    To avoid this I do my best to set proper expectations at hiring and live up to them. I also expect my team to live up to them as well. When they don't we discuss. There are times when they need to switch directions and there are times when the expectations need modification.

    The effect this has is better communication and higher levels of trust. We don't seem to discuss expectations much anymore. We solve problems instead.

    • James, you nailed it. I absolutely see that as a problem in today's organizations. Thanks for always adding good comments.