What Do You Expect?

I’ve been thinking about an Edward Deming quote quite a bit in my work life lately.  That quote is “you expect what you inspect”. It’s simple why.  In the new portfolio I’ve taken on in the past months, our team is responsible for projects of innovation, inquiry, renewal and improvement within the organization.

On our team, we generally start our work on an initiative by looking at “what is it we do now”? “How well do we do it?” “What makes us unique?” “What holds us back?”

What we usually learn at the end of an “inspection” process are the reasons why we get the results that we do.  It follows then that we would expect to get the same sort of results if we continue with the same processes.  Sometimes that is just fine.  We inspect a process or function, we find that it is performing admirably, and we expect that it will continue to do so as long as the environment doesn’t change dramatically. Other times though, we find that there is room for improvement, and thus embark on a project to revamp how things work, put the new process in action and then inspect it again to see if we can expect it to produce better results.

It is also apparent to me that we can apply this principle as individuals.  We can also expect what we inspect.  When we inspect our education level, we can set expectations of what our earning power or our level of authority might be. If we inspect how well we eat and how often we exercise, we can then set expectations of what our body weight and shape might be.

Without going into details, I think it is obvious that the same things applies as a leader of a team.

So far so good, but what this quotation really got me thinking about is what happened if we reversed it?  What would happen if we were to inspect what we expect?

As I started to think about it, we probably have a few expectations that are worthy of a closer look.  Are there any that come to mind for you? Here’s my list of the top three expectations that we have as individuals (and leaders) that might benefit from a little self-inspection:

  1. Expecting others to change to make us happy.  How often do you hear someone express something like: “John over in Accounting never keeps his commitments and he really annoys me.  He needs to be more responsive to what I need!”  In other words, I’ll be happier when he changes!  What a crazy concept … my happiness is dependent on how someone else behaves!  When we stop to inspect this, we will realize that we have no control over how John behaves.  We can only control how we respond to it, which right now amounts to giving our power over the situation to our anger at John.  What happens if we shift our thinking to what we can control about the situation … a conversation with John, a review with our leader so the leader knows our dilemma, a change of role to move into a more rewarding environment, etc. Until we take control over our own happiness, we should be prepared for a roller coaster ride of emotions.
  2. Expecting we can put a plan in action tomorrow. This is a simple one but so common. Every day that we plan to do something tomorrow is another day we have planned not to do something.  We can only act in the present. Said a different way: decide whether you are going to start today … or not. If you decide not, then know that you will face the same decision again. When we use self-inspection here, we might want to inquire into what is stopping us from doing this thing now.  It’s not important?  It’s not as important as other things? I don’t want to do it? I don’t like doing this? This is someone else’s job? Knowing how we feel about it might help us with our action (or inaction) plan!
  3. Expecting that outcomes are within our control. Don’t get me wrong.  As a leader I have high expectations of results, and I expect that my superiors have that expectation of me. Outcomes are different, as they represent the result of a single decision, transaction, game, etc.  We’re not in control of outcomes because of things like luck, decision maker bias and other factors outside our control.  If we inspect this expectation, we might find that we have not an expectation but a desire to control outcomes.  We fear failure.  We want to prove we are good enough.  What is within our control are preparedness, effort and attitude. If we apply these in sufficient quantity and in the right proportions for the challenge at hand we will find that we tilt the table in our favor, and most outcomes favor us.  We will get results.

So I said three expectations to inspect and there they are.  They apply to each of us both in our work and personal lives. I do have one to add that applies to leaders.  It is this.

  • Expecting others to follow us. We have been given a leadership position and have a team that reports to us.  If we have an expectation that these circumstances will result in others following us, we need to have another look at it. People follow people who inspire them.  People follow people who they believe will get them where they want to go. People follow people who bring them value.  If we want people to follow us we first have to be a leader.  What do we do to add value to those we want to follow us?

What expectations do you have? What do you do to understand and manage your expectations? What other common expectations do you see?

Published by

Ian Munro @ leadingessentially.com

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

5 thoughts on “What Do You Expect?

  1. Some time ago I write down three basic beliefs that upset us when they do not happen:
    1. I must win the approval of others
    2. Other people must treat be fairly and kindly.
    3. I must get what I expect and not get what I do not expect.
    It is not actually what happens that upset us but rather those beliefs about outcomes that we hold.
    These are similar in some ways as your three expectations and maybe in both our personal and business lives we should learn to be a little more flexible as to possible outcomes.

    1. Those are also interesting expectations Elizabeth! What I’m wondering about is whether it is healthy to have expectations at all. Assumptions are different. Anticipations are different. Goals are different. When I start expecting things do I then set myself up for a less than pleasant awakening? What are your thoughts on this?


      1. My thoughts on this are that it would make an interesting future post to explain the difference between expectations, beliefs, assumptions, anticipations, goals, outcomes, aims, and maybe even purpose. When I think back, I have become agitated as a leader, not about when something was done or not done, but rather the way it was or was not done (morally, ethically, respectfully). The same goes I suppose for personal events. By that I mean it has been my beliefs and personal values that have been let down rather than any particular expected outcome. One (foolishly or otherwise) expects others to have the same values as oneself. Which brings another factor into play for our expectations or outcomes as leaders, the need to incorporate standards and values.

  2. Your post immediately brought to mind one of my favourite quotes Ian — Expect the unexpected and you’ll never be disappointed. 🙂

    for me, I’ve distilled it down to a few simple expectations — that people are responsible for their own happiness, just as I am responsible for mine. they are responsible for their reactions, just as I am responsible for mine and, I expect to get what I give — thus, giving my best inspires the best in others.

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