There is a quadrant that is often used when teaching leadership in the Church.
Maybe you have seen it.
It combines the power of love and the power of expectation in one quadrant.
Elder Andersen has referenced it in a few trainings, and it was even referenced in my recent interview with Elder Lynn G. Robbins.
Now, take my opinion for what it’s worth, considering I’m about to give an alternate opinion to an apostle and a remarkable former seventy.
This wouldn’t be an intriguing newsletter if I didn’t ask you, “Hear me out!”
Generally speaking, this quadrant is a very effective way to approach leadership.
It makes sense to aim for a high expectation / high love relationship with all those we lead.
Here’s the problem…
Expectations are poison.
The reason it is poison is that it requires a leader to leverage shame for it to work.
In fact, that is why you can probably think of several high-expectation leaders who are successful.
High expectations are effective because shame is effective.
Why do you think the adversary uses it so much?
Expectation naturally causes people to question their identity.
If we live up to a leader’s expectation, we feel like it confirms a positive identity, and we can feel good about ourselves.
However, when we don’t live up to a leader’s expectation, our identity feels broken.
Our identity is set as a child of God and can never be increased or decreased.
However, our perception of that identity can be manipulated to feel like it has changed.
The problem with employing expectation (shame) and love at the same time is that these are competing values.
The first is damaging, and the other is healing.
In this effort, it would be very common for an individual to feel like, “You are saying you love me, but you are also saying my identity is flawed.”
Even if the leader doesn’t intend for that message to be communicated, it will most likely be communicated if you try to leverage expectation.
Let me offer a reframing of this quadrant idea.
Instead of high expectation / high love, may we instead aim for high identity / high love?
Divine identity and love will always push us in the same direction and are highly motivational.
As leaders, instead of laying out our expectations, leaders should focus on the goals of whatever effort you are involved in (i.e. missionary work, ministering, callings) and then continuously remind them of their divine identity as someone who can accomplish remarkable things.
In that posture, it is impossible not to offer high love because the focus is on the divine identity and not the behavioral expectations.
I’ve been practicing these principles being a father of a 10-year-old soccer-playing daughter.
After a typical game where she has performed well, I avoid saying, “I’m proud of you.”
Instead, I offer a statement which articulates how I see her divine identity: “I always knew you were the type of player that could be aggressive on the field.”
After a game where maybe she didn’t perform as well, I say something similar that keeps the focus on her set divine identity like, “I always knew you were the type that never gives up when things aren’t going well on the field.”
What do you think?
Are expectations in leadership poison?
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Expectations are fine. High expectations are also good. But they also need to be realistic and based on the individual, which is where the love part comes in. If you don’t love someone and simply have high expectations, you won’t have realistic expectations or care how you push them to achieve them. If you do love the person, you will know them well enough to support them reasonably in their growth. In the education world, we talk about the zone of proximal development, which is where you focus on small incremental improvements that can be realistically accomplished rather than pie in the sky stretch goals that most managers and business leaders (who don’t love their direct reports) are fond of.