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  • Writer's pictureMichael A. Hughes

The Power of Clear Expectations

How Disciplined are you at NOT micro-managing?

The Situation

Have you ever had an employee that continually frustrated you? You know that the individual is capable of far better performance but for some reason they keep falling short. You are about to tear your hair out. You may even stoop to vent to your colleagues or your boss about this person who is detracting from your team's potential results. I'm willing to bet we have all been there at some stage.

When I have a manager show up in my office with similar frustrations, I find myself frequently asking him questions in line with Steven Covey's "Green & Clean" concept from his book on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (still one of the best leadership and personal development books on the market!). Steven tells the story about how he tried to teach his son responsibility at an early age and gave him the job of keeping their yard green and clean for the summer. The rules of engagement for him as a Dad (the leader), were that he would not provide specific instructions on how to do the task, but instead invest time up front on what the end goal really was....a green and clean yard. He would offer help whenever asked and would walk the yard with his son once per week, but besides that it was totally his responsibility.

As you can see in the video link below, this is far easier said than done, in my experience it is an area where many managers and leaders fall short. First of all, we rarely spend enough time up front, explaining with crystal clarity what the true object of the project or task is. We may not paint the picture in a language the employee can understand and oftentimes we assume our teams understand what is going on inside our brains. We really should not be surprised when we "catch them" stopping short of our expectations or even aiming in a direction totally different to where we thought we had pointed them.

The second big mistake many of us make is that, when we see them moving in the wrong direction or not executing the way "I would have done that...", is that we jump in and take over. We start to micro-manage the individual, or worse, dismiss them from the task and just do it ourselves. When you think back on these situations and put yourself in the shoes of the employee, just imagine how diminishing and demotivating that can be. Should we be surprised when they don't put their heart and soul into the next task we put on their plate?

Green & Clean Approach

Take more time to truly explain the goal of a project or task. Draw it out on a whiteboard if possible. Do it an a language that everyone can comprehend. Offer to help whenever the individual or team asks for your help. Give them the flexibility to tackle the challenge in the way they see best. Drop in on a pre-arranged frequency and check on progress, reminding them on these occasions of the goal you described in detail at the start. Continue to offer your support but don't take over.


This approach drives phenomenal levels of engagement. You can typically see it immediately if you stick strictly to the steps above. I have found an even higher level of engagement and energy on the second project, after you have demonstrated the above behaviors on the first go around. People feel empowered. They feel trusted. They know you have got their backs. Any like everyone, if they are confident in the Green and Clean goalposts they are powering towards, they will move with alacrity and a surety that has a much greater chance of leading to a quick and successful outcome. Everyone wins!



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