4 Promises Leaders Don’t Even Know They Make

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May 6, 2016

As a leader, your team expects a great deal of you.

Their expectations constitute the promise of your leadership, but only 5-10% of leaders meet these expectations, according to Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results, by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams.

Employees judge their leaders’ effectiveness on both explicit and implicit expectations, even when the expectations may be unrealistic or misunderstood.

  1. Explicit: Expressed expectations for outcomes incumbent with the role of a leader (fiscal responsibility, accountability, strategy and execution.)
  1. Implicit: Unspoken expectations employees have of their leaders (competence, fair treatment, commitment, engagement, listening, acting on suggestions, and providing meaning and direction.)

Leaders – and organizations – succeed or fail depending on whether or not leaders clarify their roles and goals, understand the impact implicit expectations have on their perceived effectiveness, and keep their promises.

The leadership agenda

When you step into a leadership role, employees assume you’ll fulfill both their explicit and implicit expectations. However, because some expectations are often unreasonable or unexpressed, leaders may feel they’re set up to fail in their efforts to fulfill the perceived promise of leadership.

Leaders need to clearly understand what people expect of them, and the best way to accomplish this is by asking those who work with and for them about their expectations. Leaders can accelerate their progress towards effectiveness by asking, learning, and then managing expectations – having those expectations become the bar by which they’re measured.

Leaders who keep their promises boost performance, enhance their credibility, inspire and engage employees, and build trust; those who break promises lose credibility and trust.

4 universal leadership promises

From the authors’ research and experience, they’ve identified four universal leadership promises. While most leaders are familiar with the terms, few see them as promises and often break them and suffer the consequences.

  1. Set the right direction and create meaningful work. (The organization fails to be competitive and declines when this promise is broken.)
  1. Engage all employees and hold them accountable for performance. (When this promise is broken, employees underperform, turnover increases, competition wins market share, and the organization declines.)
  1. Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution. (Failing here wastes money, human capital and time; the organization becomes mired in a culture of resentment and hopelessness and ultimately declines.)
  1. Lead effectively; maintain relationships of trust to achieve desired results. (If this promise is broken, there’s little chance of achieving any of the other promises.)

These four promises and the level of mastery they require – individually and collectively – should constitute the leadership agenda for the organization and be viewed as a key strategic priority and business imperative. The performance of the business — as well as the meaning and value created by everyone associated with the business — depends on it.

Practice making & keeping promises

You’re more likely to follow through on your promises when the terms of your commitment are clear and specific; other people know about your promises; and you realize you’ll lose credibility and respect for failing to follow-through.

To fulfill the promise of leadership, leaders must know what people expect of them, manage those expectations, and perform against them. When this happens, execution is extraordinary—performance is high, employees are engaged, and work is fun and fulfilling.