For years now I have been curious about how our expectations can influence our experiences of the world around us, and how that can be translated into greater levels of leadership and performance in the workplace. And as I studied this phenomenon, I found that there are many stories that indicate just how powerful our expectations are.
How often have you noticed that your expectations of an upcoming event actually colored your experience of it? How about your expectations of the people you work with? And what about those you live with? You see, the absolute truth is that your expectations will impact not only your experience, but in many cases the actual outcome of an event.
The truth is, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you expect.
In one of the most surprising studies of the impact of expectations, in 1964 Harvard Professor Robert Rosenthal did an experiment with an elementary school south of San Francisco. The idea was to understand what would happen if teachers were told that certain kids were exceptional students and had very high IQ’s. And, these kids were chosen completely at random. There was nothing significantly different about them from the other students in the class, but teachers were told they were highly intelligent and needed to be challenged intellectually in the classroom.
Over the next two years, Rosenthal discovered that the teachers’ expectations really did affect the students’ performance. The students actually tested higher on all subsequent tests, including IQ tests.
“High expectations are the key to everything.” – Sam Walton
We have a prime example of this effect in the workplace, too. Just think about what Steve Jobs was able to achieve through his teams at Apple. He literally made the impossible possible. And he did it over and over again. How? Well, he simply expected that his team could take his ideas and make them a reality, and not only that; they could do it in an unbelievably short period time!
Now, I’m not here to debate Jobs’ methods or the undeniable human carnage that he sometimes left in the wake of his behaviors. The point is simply this – he expected his team to be the best in the world at what they did, and he ended up being proved right repeatedly.
“Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance of the event.” – Brian Tracy
So the question is, how can you as a Project Manager, exert greater influence over your team and create more positive results?
It’s all in how your expectations impact your behaviors toward your team. Let me explain. As Rosenthal did more research, what he found was that our expectations impact our moment-to-moment interactions in many ways, most of them almost invisible. With the teachers in his experiment, he found that they gave those students more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval. Think about that in the context of your current projects and team members.
“Our limitations and success will be based, most often, on your own expectations for ourselves. What the mind dwells upon, the body acts upon.” – Denis Waitley
There are certainly things you can begin to do right now, immediately, to increase your influence and help engage your teams more deeply in the work of bringing innovation and change to your organization. And it all starts with you.
Watch how each team member interacts. How do they prefer to engage? What do they seem to like to do? Observe so you can understand all they are capable of. And then raise your expectations of them and their capabilities.
Think back on your own best and worst teachers, bosses or supervisors. List five words for each that describe how you felt in your interactions with them. How did the best and the worst make you feel? What specifically did they do or say that made you feel that way? Chances are they had high expectations for you, and you felt that and responded.
Now think about how your team members would describe you. Jot down how they might describe you and why. How do your expectations or beliefs shape how they look at you? Are there parallels in your beliefs and their responses to you?
“It’s not magic, it’s not mental telepathy,” Rosenthal says. “It’s very likely (caused by) these thousands of different ways of treating people in small ways every day.”
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work