Top 5 Leadership Expectations from Teams: Insights for Success

I once had the privilege of delivering a presentation on FAST Leadership to a group of employees from one of the world’s largest insurance companies.

In addition to doing the FAST talk, I also ran a small workshop on what people want from their leaders, discussing the different aspects of leadership, listing them, and then ranking them in order of priority.

As I had just done the talk on FAST leadership, which had been a very interactive discussion, I had managed to build a good rapport with the team, and as I wasn’t their leader, we had a really open dialogue about what they were looking for in their leaders.

I thought it would be good to share their thoughts, as they really resonated with me.

I would add that they didn’t say that all of these items were currently missing from their leadership; this was a generic exercise in what they would look for in any leader or in any company that they would work for, which is why I felt it would be worth sharing.

Here are the Top 5 Expectations that the team have for their leaders.

1 – Keep Commitments

I wasn’t surprised that this was on the list, but I was surprised that this was the top requirement from each of the groups. The teams were very clear that when their leaders make commitments, they keep them. This was the number one driver of trust; if the leaders didn’t keep their commitments, then there was no trust, no matter how inspiring the leader was or how people-focused they were. Keeping commitments = trust!

2 – Clear Objectives, Clear Expectations

I thought that this might be the top requirement, as lack of clear direction is usually one of the biggest frustrations within teams. It was interesting that the team didn’t just request clear objectives, but also that they wanted to know the expectations of them in achieving the objective and what their role was in this. They also added that these should be communicated clearly. It was mentioned that sometimes, even when there are clear objectives, they are not communicated clearly, which is the same as not having clear objectives. So be clear about the objective, set clear expectations for your team and communicate them as clearly as possible.

3 – Timely Constructive Feedback

The team said that they were desperate for feedback, but they also added that the feedback needed to be timely. They don’t want to wait until their annual review to be told that you weren’t happy; let me know at the time of the incident or issue. Also, the feedback should be constructive, supportive, and provided to help them improve their performance so that they can then meet the expectations.

Feedback, which just criticises, was a big no-no; that was just seen as demotivational, and the leaders could keep that to themselves; that was seen more as punishment than feedback.

4 – Stand Up For The Team

Each group was very clear on this: It was the leader’s job to stand up and protect the team. One member even said the leader should be the shield that the team can stand behind when faced with undue criticism. They were not looking for the leader to take the blame for their mistakes, but they did expect the leader to stand up for them when they were being criticised unfairly. They also wanted their leaders to make sure that the team didn’t get over-committed and would also fight for the necessary resources so that the team could be successful.

This was also another of the key contributors to building trust within the team, they wanted to know that their leader would stand up for them when they needed them.

5 – Challenge Me, But Support Me

This last item will probably come as a surprise to some leaders, but it was mentioned by all the groups. Everybody said that they wanted to do a better job, that they wanted their leader to push them to achieve higher levels of performance and to help them to develop to be better.

But they didn’t just want challenging, they also wanted supporting on this journey, and they were very clear that they felt it was the leaders job to support them on this journey. They didn’t just want to be told about big, bold goals that they should achieve and then be left alone to struggle alone to achieve them. They were keen to push performance to new levels, but they wanted their leaders to come on the journey with them, helping them, coaching them, and challenging them.

In the discussions, we also talked about things like Trust, Openness and Honesty, but the general conclusion was that if the Top 5 Expectations were met then things like Trust would be the result, the outcome, and what people would see in the leadership, so they preferred to cover expectations rather than leadership qualities as they felt it would be more informative for the leadership team.

Having been part of the discussion, I would fully agree with that conclusion, as I think these expectations give leaders much more information of what good leadership would look like than a list of qualities ever would.

For sure, it will be hard for people without qualities such as Trust, Openness and Honesty to deliver these expectations, but even with them, you might fail to deliver what the team is looking for, without more guidance.

So my challenge to leaders is to ask yourselves, how many of these Top 5 Expectations are you meeting? Also, check with your teams whether these would also be their Top 5, and I would be surprised if they weren’t close.

Also I would ask anybody who is in a team: are there any other expectations you would put in the Top 5 and also which one would you take out for it?

Providing clear expectations to leaders of what you expect from them is one way to increase the probability of achieving them. 

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