What People Expect From Their Leaders

leaderI had the great pleasure of giving a talk on FAST Leadership to a team at one of the largest Insurance companies in the world.

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 it 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, in any company that they would work for, which is why I felt it would be worth sharing.

I’d also like to thank Jo Simpson, @JoSimpsonSpeaks, for the voting system which I borrowed from her talk on Values, which I found to be very effective, it really does make people think about what’s most important.

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 that 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 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, what was their role 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 of 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, don’t want until my annual review to tell me you weren’t happy, let me know at the time of the incident or issue. Also the feedback should be constructive, supportive and provided with a view to helping them to 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 de-motivational 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 leaders 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 want their leads to come on the journey with them, helping them, coaching them, 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 int the Top 5 and also which one would you take out for it?

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

Gordon Tredgold