We often hear that great leaders and great teachers establish high expectations for their followers and their students. They set the bar high and challenge others to exceed that target. However, I was struck by some advice in a recent column by Fast Company that challenges this conventional wisdom a bit. Natasha Awasthi wrote a piece titled, "7 Hard-Earned Lessons in Leading a Dysfunctional Team." She talked about taking charge of an under-performing group and turning it around. Awasthi offered this important nugget of advice: "Make them exceed their expectations first (not yours)." She goes on to explain:
"A GPS needs to know where you are and where you want to go before it can give you directions. In a similar vein, before you unveil designs for another individual’s work-life, you must plot their starting point, and their desired destination. Your aim should be to thoughtfully and incrementally build an individual’s confidence in her ability to succeed at tasks seemingly out of her reach."
She makes a great point. Before we charge people with achieving goals that we have established for them, we sometimes have to prove to them that they can exceed their own expectations. We need to encourage them to set the bar high and show them that they can succeed at achieving those goals. In short, we have to encourage others to demand a great deal of themselves. Then they need to see that that achieving those loftier goals is possible. If they do it for themselves, rather than for us, we are much more likely to succeed as leaders (and teachers).