A common problem of our busy, often autopilot existences is that we can begin to trade inspiration for expectations. If we lead with excellence, our primary role is to inspire those around us, knowing that if one is touched by someone who inspires them, there is no need to worry about maintaining or even articulating expectations. In fact, in my experience, the exercise of setting expectations more often than not simply lowers the bar and keeps an individual and team from truly growing and reaching their full potential.
As we look to the work and relationships we experience each day, expectations can often be blinders, blocking our capacity to see clearly. When we expect a behavior or a result, we will often just look for that one aspect of the situation, missing what is actually or truly there.
One illustration of this was well articulated by a participant at a mindful leadership retreat I led, attended by a group of consumer research experts. We had just been exploring a mindful communication exercise, using our practice to notice when the mind is pulled away from listening to another, and redirecting open attention to what is there to be noticed—seen, felt and heard. It was such a unique experience for one attendee that he could not wait to express to the group his insight that "our work would be so much more accurate if we used this practice in focus group observations instead of sitting behind a two way glass, eating candy and waiting for someone in the group to say what we expect them to say!"
This insight has certainly been true in my own experience, at work and at home. When I go into a conversation or meeting with a certain expectation of the outcome, I limit what I will discover and learn. Progress and achievement is limited by ”checking the box” on a set of project expectations that were met or hearing what I expected to hear. And, in fact, that mindset is often the greatest stumbling block to a creative, respectful environment.
So, if inspiration is a better way to guide and influence than setting expectations, how does one inspire? Inspiration requires leadership presence, the ability to clearly see what is here now rather than what is expected, the capacity to see the potential for limitless creativity, and the ability to “let go” and open to what arises.
If you care to experiment, take a look at the events of today on your calendar and spend a few moments at your desk right now, resting into these questions:
- What might I discover if I went into that moment without any expectations, and with the intention to be fully present to whatever arises?
- Can I let go of wanting something to happen in a particular way and simply have the intention to be present?
- Would that openness inspire others to stretch and think outside the box?
For more, see posts from Janice Marturano's "On Leadership" blog.