Leaders: How to Set Expectations For Success


Leaders: People will perform up to your expectations – set your expectations at your team’s full potential, then help them succeed.

Names Effect Enthusiasm

Sports teams select names that are meant to encourage the team to succeed and inspire the fans to cheer.

Some professional teams have names that represent action like:

  • The San Diego Chargers
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Chicago Bulls

Other teams have names that celebrate their towns like:

  • The New England Patriots
  • Phoenix Suns
  • Montreal Canadians

Can you imagine sports teams with a name like: “The Fumblers” or “The Strike-Outs” or “The Penalty Box?” Of course not.

Naming People

Similarly, no person should be named in a way that limits their opportunity to achieve success like: “Advanced as far as they can” or “Not smart enough” or “Not leadership material.”

Maybe that person’s strengths are better used in another role that will free them to shine.

Successful Leaders don’t limit growth, they help people discover and develop their strengths.

German author and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said:

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you will help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

The level of enthusiasm of your team, and of you as the leader of the team, will be positively influenced by having a positive image of each member of your team.

Names Influence Effort

Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson performed an experiment in 1966 known as The Pygmalion Effect, which tested the effect of teacher expectations on student performance.  Teachers across 1st through 6th grades were told that certain students were expected to perform at a very high level in the coming year.

Rosenthal and Jacobson then randomly assigned students to randomly selected teachers and gave the names of the students to the teachers.

At the end of the school year, this randomly selected group of students achieved markedly higher gains in IQ scores than the rest of the students.  Why?  Because the teachers expected these students to be successful and worked hard to make sure they were.

People will achieve up to the limit of their expectations.

James Rhem, the executive editor for the online National Teaching and Learning Forum, said:

“When teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways.”

Leaders have to expect that each of their team members will succeed, then work hard to make sure that happens.

Names Should Fit The Role

Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish Nation, was once known as “Abram” which means “Exalted Father.”  At that time he had one son, Ishmael, and he was near 100 years old.  God appeared to Abram and told him that his descendants would number more than the stars.  From that point forward he would be called “Abraham” which means “Father of Many Nations.”

Marion Morrison used the stage name John Wayne because he wanted to be a rugged movie star.

What’s In a Name

Theodor Seuss Geisel began signing the name Seuss to his work in his college’s humor magazine.  The correct pronunciation of Seuss is “Soyce” but it was mispronounced “Suss” which sounded like “Goose” as in the nursery rhymes.  That was fine to Theodor who intended to use his pen name for his humorous work anyway and save his real name for a future serious project.

The “Dr.” was added to his first published book in honor of his father who wanted Theodore to be a doctor.

From this day forward, every member of your team should be named “Successful,” in the specific role they have been assigned.  The definition of success may be different in each role.

Your job as the leader is to help define success for each person and assist them in accomplishing up to their new name – Successful.

From the inspirational diary of Anne Frank comes this truth:

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news.  The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

What name have you given to your team, and to each member of your team?  Do you believe that they can be successful?  Have you limited the growth of your team by naming them “Unable to succeed?”  Your expectations of your team will drive their performance.


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Denis McLaughlin
Denis McLaughlin is President of Leadership GPS, Inc.
He is a Leadership Development Expert, Coach, Teacher, Speaker, and Writer
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Blog | Web

Image Sources: blog.darnipora.lt

4 responses to “Leaders: How to Set Expectations For Success

  1. Great article. I borrowed a technique I learnied in a class of giving a name and descriptor to each team member. It takes some thought on understanding individual strengths. For example one of my employees had the descriptor “Genius” with the nickname “Einstein” another was “Velocity” with the nick name “Indy 500”. “Einstein was brilliant on problem solving, “Indy 500” had worked for the group for many years and was incredibly fast at finding information and getting her work done. We had team shirts made. It created a great deal of pride in the team and helped them better understand the strengths they brought to the table every day.


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.