The Power of Expectations

Last week I shared a story about leadership in tough times (below). A local restaurant owner got my attention with a handwritten letter he put in our takeout meal bag. The sincerity of his letter prompted me to write about two leadership behaviors that I believe are crucial – authenticity and vulnerability.

Leadership in “Tough Times”

One of the comments left on the blog post made me realize that there is another really important lesson in this business owner’s leadership style – the power of expectations.

The comment read:

This comment was left by Han Tak, the individual who designed the online ordering system between the time that restaurants were closed on March 17 and March 28 when the online ordering launched.  Talk about leap of faith. He didn’t know how to do something, and Bernard trusted that he’d figure it out.

I love a good inspirational story, and I love it, even more, when it shows how innovative and persistent people can be when trusted to carry out a vision.  I suspect that Bernard had a vision that the “takeout ordering thing” could be a lot easier with online ordering.  So he asked someone with whom he already had a trusted relationship.

I spoke with Bernard about how he came to ask Han to build an online ordering site.  He said, “…in our first interview he told me about his background with Google, which gave him instant credibility. Not knowing much (or liking it) about social media, I felt I needed a dynamic person to handle that aspect of our business. He convinced me that when you do social media, you have to do it right. High-quality video and photography are essential and after seeing one video from him, I was sold. We developed a really good relationship and seem to inspire one another.”

Wow.  Now I know where all those awesome Facebook posts after the hurricanes when Caps was rebuilding came from.  I hadn’t thought about it until now, but seeing a business owner giving a virtual tour of all the new amenities after the hurricanes made me feel connected to the restaurant in ways I had never felt connected to a restaurant. Wise counsel, Han!

When an expectation is low there isn’t too much to strive for.

But let’s get back to leadership.  I titled this “The power of expectations” for a reason.  I think that people rise to the expectation.  When an expectation is low there isn’t too much to strive for.  But when someone expects the extraordinary, my experience is that people want very much to deliver. After way too many years in corporate America where organizations focused only on technical skills and were often disappointed that the outcome was not what was expected, I came to believe that technical skills are only half the battle. Will and persistence take any execution a whole lot farther.

Oh, I can hear the contrarians out there saying, “Having experience at Google does not a technology expert make.” Quite true.  But it has been my experience that, once you know the basics of technology, it is creativity and innovation that propel the deliverable.

Bernard took a risk on Han, and Han was candid with Bernard about his abilities. I’m guessing that the “good relationship” they developed helped both say, “let’s figure it out.”

A good lesson here, perhaps.

It’s important to be clear about the outcome and clear on what it takes to succeed.  If your outcome requires a knowledge of rocket science, hire for technical qualifications.  But if you can, give someone a chance to show what they can learn and do.

The cool thing is that everyone else at the restaurant watched the process and joined in cheering Han on.

March 2020 was an unprecedented time.  Bernard had a goal (which he put on Facebook) – to keep his full-time staff employed.  Faced with closing or trying a new business model, he chose to enter uncharted territory, trusting his own instincts and those with whom he had developed relationships to make it work. He gave an opportunity to Han to learn something new and do something extraordinary. The cool thing is that everyone else at the restaurant watched the process and joined in cheering Han on. I know because when we picked up our Easter takeout brunch today, they told me so.  And it is obvious that everyone is in the spirit of making Caps the very best takeout restaurant in north Florida. They were already among the best waterfront restaurants in north Florida, and now we all know why.

When I shared this draft with my husband, he reminded me of a pretty relevant and cool quote:

You can order this poster of the Calvin Coolidge quote on Etsy.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Carol — For some reason, I was reminded of “The Peter Principle” here: players in organizations rise to their level of incompetence, meaning they fail at the level where they no longer have the skills required to do the new job. And it’s often the lack of interpersonal skills and “soft skills” – e/g., will and persistence – that get people into trouble. Han had them. Good leaders like Bernard see potential – or don’t see potential – in people and make decisions accordingly. Nice story.

    • Hi Joel – thanks for your comment. Nothing is ever plain and simple. What might energize one person would confound another. What I liked about this story is that they’d built the relationship before, so that leap of faith was easier to make.

  2. Carol – So glad you added this to the original story. The lesson is so powerful and so true. I remember they I worked in a home improvement store that one of the cashiers kept herself busy when she had no customers by cleaning her station, restocking the “impulse” racks, and sweeping the exit area. So, when I needed a Department Head for the plumbing department, I offered her the job. She quickly told me she knew nothing about plumbing – I told her I could teach her about plumbing – I needed someone with her willingness to work hard to turn this department around. She finally agreed and became such a superstar that the other department heads began to seek advice from her. My belief in her soon became her reason for believing she could actually succeed in the job. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    • I’ve had similar experiences, Len. I’ve also seen where it doesn’t work, but so much depends upon the details surrounding the decision – what can be trained and what can’t. You get the concept “Just because one is a good plumber don’t make him a good manager.” – too often that is missed.

    • Carol – So true. When I put someone in a position in which they feel unqualified, I invest in them in every way because I honestly want them to achieve their full potential – a potential I can see – a potential that is being stifled by bad managers of their past – a potential that will enable them to reach for stars they once believed were impossible to reach.

    • I love the term “invest” – and “honest” is pretty good too. Thanks again, Len and Semper Fi