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Managing Expectations: Up, Down, and (most importantly) Inside

For a long time, I had the perception that as a professional in a director position my role was to lead the team that reported to me, as well as bring along the managers above me. I had to manage expectations of my team of what resources we available, motivate them to accomplish tasks, and prepare them for upcoming projects. Additionally, I had to manage the expectations of the managers above me who wanted activities done in less time with fewer resources, or help them understand how major organizational changes looked from an operational perspective. I was often frustrated trying to balance these two sides because what the individual contributors wanted was often different than that which upper management envisioned. I was the middle-man, trying to keep both sides happy and focused on the same path forward.

Managing Up

Working with to those above me, I tried to get them to see the intricacies of processes my team completed on a daily basis. That was often glossed over with words like “you can figure it out” or “you need to think more high level.” This discouraged me because I was asking my bosses for guidance – and sometimes they heard me and sometimes they didn’t. I had the expectation that it was my boss’ job to help me navigate operational challenges, but eventually realized that was only a construct I created in my own mind. Over my career, I rarely had bosses who could clearly define how “support” from them would actually look, but nonetheless, I was still expected to #doallthethings.

Managing Down

As I was leading my team, I often felt like I was trying to get them to do more with less. In the middle manager seat, I was often communicating information from upper management, having to be the buffer of high-level corporate decisions that impacted the individual contributors substantially differently than they impacted the C-suite. Sometimes I didn’t agree with the decisions, like being told that “no one can get the highest ranking on their annual employee evaluation” (when I knew this wasn’t being implemented equitably across all departments). Although I may not have fundamentally believed in some decisions, it was the responsibility of my role to help my team understand the impact of these. Often, in order to feel in integrity with myself, I went above and beyond personally in order to show appreciation to my team and have them be part of the decisions I had control over making.

Managing Inside

This balancing act was exhausting because my focus was on managing up and down, but it wasn’t until years into my corporate career that I took a pause to intentionally manage my own expectations. I was worried about what my boss would write about me in my own personal evaluation, as well as whether my team would respect my leadership. I got burnt out and emotional because I had the personal expectation that it was my job to support everyone around me but wasn’t receiving the support I needed in return. Then one day I received some amazing advice from a mentor who said “Don’t expect something from someone who can’t give it to you.” What she meant was that I was seeking something (support, coaching, training) from someone who didn’t understand how to give this to me. This simple yet profound statement has stuck with me for years. This mentor was the first person to make me realize it was my responsibility to look inside and figure out who I was, how I wanted to lead, and what I would do to grow into that by any means necessary. My original expectation was that the things I needed for growth would be given to me because the level of my position or the size of my organization. This mentor gave me the wake-up call that I needed to know that my future growth was in my own hands, and if I wasn’t getting it one way then I would go find it another way. I started seeking and becoming the kind of leader I knew people would proud to follow. Once I changed my expectation (and then my actions), my whole world changed.

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