Unrealistic expectations cause problems and are exposed in a multitude of situations. Sometimes they are related to ourselves and thinking we should never make a mistake. Other times, they are connected to someone else that we interact with, like a boss or manager.
We all have unrealistic expectations, but this doesn’t mean they are good for you. Quite the opposite, they can ruin a relationship, cause disengagement at work, and stop us from achieving attainable goals.
“Unrealistic expectations are the seeds of resentment.”
These are the wise words a coach and mentor told me as I wrestled with feelings of frustration with a former boss. While I struggled to understand his remarks at the time, it’s clear now that when we or anyone else falls short of our unrealistic expectations, we draw false conclusions, feed ourselves lies, and start the process of adverse outcomes becoming a reality.
Take Larry, an experienced salesperson, as an example. He joined a company in startup mode and reported to Tom, a young and energetic first-time VP of Sales. Larry held the unrealistic expectation that “Tom should never be late to a virtual meeting.” He viewed tardiness as a sign of disrespect to him and anyone else attending a meeting.
While Tom didn’t intend to be late for meetings with Larry, it was impossible for him to always be on time due to situations outside of his control. He reported to a long-winded CEO, had twelve salespeople with various experience levels, and was responsible for helping his young kids navigate virtual school at home.
When Tom joined calls late, Larry concluded that Tom wasn’t a good leader because he lacked great time management skills. Instead of getting curious and uncovering the reasons for Tom’s tardiness, Larry allowed his disappointment to affect his effort. This eventually snowballed into an unfortunate split from the company that was eventually purchased by a competitor, causing Larry to miss out on a significant payday.
What are Unrealistic Expectations?
An expectation is a belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. Unrealistic expectations assume a level of control that we don’t actually have in a situation. This is not to say that having expectations or standards of behavior is a bad thing. The keyword here is unrealistic.
The gap between unrealistic expectations and reality lies in disappointment. If disappointment isn’t dealt with, it will hurt instead of helping your future outcomes.
If disappointment, the gap between expectations and reality, isn’t dealt with, it will hurt instead of helping your future outcomes.
As someone who cares about achieving goals, properly dealing with feelings of disappointment is something, you should care about. While the strategies for best navigating dissatisfaction are long, it’s essential to be aware and have the courage to confront it.
Why Most Employees Have Unrealistic Expectation of Their Boss
Most people are hard on themselves and even harder on their managers at work. The reason is simple, we desire people in leadership positions to be better and make fewer mistakes than we do. While it’s true that experience and wisdom lend leaders to make effective decisions and perform at a high level, no one is perfect.
Just because someone has a title doesn’t make them perfect. Give leaders the grace you should give yourself.
If this Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, employees need people in their corner who can empathize with their situation and act accordingly; leaders included.
How to Relinquish Unrealistic Expectation of Your Manager
One of the keys to your engagement and performance is relinquishing unrealistic expectations of your manager. Here are a few ways to do that:
1. Focus on Growth Mode
There are so many bad managers because being an effective leader is hard. Having said that, there is a big difference between having solid boundaries for how a boss/manager should treat you and being patient with them when they are actively working on improving. If a manager constantly berates or treats you like you are beneath them, it is safe to assume that there is a need for immediate change. However, there is more to flesh out than meets the eye in a situation like Larry and Tom’s.
One way of relinquishing unrealistic expectations for a manager is to evaluate if they are in growth mode. The reason is simple;
“One mark of a leader getting better is their willingness to seek feedback and act differently because of it.”
If you were new to a job or role, you would want others to be patient as you developed the skills required to succeed. Now is the time to do the same for others. To determine if your boss is deserving of this, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are they reading books, listening to podcasts, or attending workshops to grow their knowledge and develop their skills?
- Do they ask for feedback from you or anyone else about what they can do better?
- Have they completed a 360° assessment in the past 12 months?
- Are they leading their best in the corporate environment and culture you both are in?
2. Use the Heart to Heart Technique
This technique isn’t for the faint of heart (pun intended). The heart-to-heart technique is a scheduled meeting with your manager designed and practiced before it takes place. It’s a courageous conversation laying evidence and feelings about what you need from your manager to be engaged and perform at your best.
While this technique doesn’t always go as planned or have the desired outcome, you should feel good about opening the lines of communication and giving the situation a chance to improve.
Unrealistic expectations about your manager are unhelpful expectations. They set both parties up for disappointment. Now is the time to reevaluate, better communicate, and have higher levels of empathy for everyone in the workplace, your boss included.
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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.