Obama couldn’t manage expectations. But Yes We Can!

So Obama is back after what seems like a never-ending US election.  He faces some tough challenges but, with the first term behind him, I think he stands a better chance of success.  When Barack Obama was elected as President in 2008 he, more than other political leaders, carried with him the unrealistically high expectations of those who put him in power.  The euphoria around his entry to the White House fuelled the suggestion that here was the new Messiah, capable of performing impossible tasks, eradicating corruption, conflict and inequality in the world.   Not long into his term of office he was being criticised for not delivering on his promises, but most of these were promises he never made. The expectations of him were unrealistic and there was very little he could do to manage those expectations.

That is not the case for most of us.  Managing expectations is essential if you want to earn respect, keep your customers and maintain support from the people around you.   Yet so many of us fail in this respect.   It is all too tempting to over promise and under deliver.  We get carried away by our own enthusiasm for exciting ideas, we want to galvanise support, we want to be optimistic rather than negative about what can be achieved.  With our customers we don’t want to say ‘no’ or give disappointing news.  But enthusiasm without substance leads to raised expectations and, if we don’t deliver, the result is loss of confidence in you, scepticism, and disaffected colleagues.  Customers will leave you if you don’t follow through and do what you say.

Managing expectations doesn’t mean that you can’t be enthusiastic or set out your aspirations or ideas for the future.  It simply requires an honest approach when communicating these ideas.  Describe the goal and be enthusiastic about it but be realistic about what can be achieved by when, perhaps setting out the obstacles to be overcome before the dream can be realised.  Aspirational talk has to be tempered with practical guidance.  People will be more ready to accept your ideas if you are realistic about their implementation.  Recently I gave some feedback to a client of mine which came from one of his colleagues.  The colleague said “he has a positive ‘can do’ attitude and always delivers.”  I know that my client has a positive attitude to his work but he won’t say he ‘can do’ something when he knows he can’t.  That’s managing expectations.

And the same goes for your customers.  How many times have you, as a customer, been promised a call back in 5 minutes or a delivery within 2 days and been disappointed when the call or delivery doesn’t come?   Rather than feeling delighted our customers feel angry and let down when we fail to deliver.   How much better to be honest with them about what can you can do by when.  It might not be exactly what they want to hear but they will appreciate your honesty and you won’t disappoint them.

There was little Barack Obama could do in his first term to manage expectations.  We however, have many opportunities to ensure that we are honest and realistic in our communications and that we only promise when we know we can deliver.

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