OK, that title is not really original—I borrowed a bit from The Pitbull of Personal Development (aka Larry Winget) and his book Your Success is Your Own Damn Fault (a recommended read if you are willing to confront difficult realities with an eye on increasing your personal impact and you have a sense of humor).
If it offends, sorry, but the objective was to get your attention about what may be the biggest obstacle to the success of the teams you work with—both those you lead and those on which you participate.
It’s a simple, recurrent problem that regularly gets in the way of progress. Strategic planning sessions are taken off track by it, staff meetings produce sub par outcomes because of it, and every day people experience frustration and dissatisfaction that sometimes leads them to completely disengage because of it.
But the solution to this insipient (not so little) problem lies within each and every one of us (thus the assertion in the title).
What am I talking about?
My belief about expectations may seem a tad simplistic, but it is supported by research and personal experience, and it provides a solution that anyone can implement on their own.
So what is this magical belief?
People will always (yes, always) behave the way you expect them to behave.
If you expect them to participate and engage, they will. Sure, you will act differently and set the stage for their engagement when you expect it, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they will deliver on your expectation. And whether your expectation is grounded in past experience or assumption, it will lead to better outcomes for the group (even if it is a group of two).
On the other hand, if you expect one or two people to dominate the discussion, they will. They’ll do it because they know that you are waiting for them to speak up because they always do, and because you (and others) will sit silently and opt to avoid confrontation. In other words, because everyone expects it to happen and behaves in a way that makes it happen, it becomes the de facto norm for the group.
So what is the solution?
First, recognize that the way we engage with others derives from the way we expect them to behave.
Second, realize that the only only thing we can truly control is our own expectations and behaviors.
Finally, commit to raise your expectations and take appropriate personal actions to communicate and demonstrate those expectations.
If you do these three things, you will see a change. It might take a while, but you will personally begin to see the change quickly, if for no other reason than because you spend less time worrying about why things won’t work and devote more energy to trying to making sure they do.
And wouldn’t you rather have success be your fault?
Action Advice: Take a moment to consider your expectations and the impacts they are having on the teams you work with and the ones you lead. Are you making assumptions that lead to exactly the behaviors you don’t want? Are you compromising the results of the team’s work by choosing not to expect the best from everyone (and taking the necessary actions to set the stage for making that happen)? What can you do to change, and when will you take the first step?