At long last, I was able to take my very dirty dogs to a grooming appointment. The groomer said: “Oh, it shouldn’t be long for just a bath.” As a result, I opted not to go home, expecting a phone call in about an hour or so. Two and a half hours later, I went back in only to learn that one dog was still wet and had not yet been trimmed!

That same day, I received a package in the mail. This was an item that was originally billed as “two-day shipping” and it actually took four, but they told me that it would take five days so I was actually excited that it came “early.”

It’s all about the expectations. Had my groomer said: “See you in three hours,” I would have gone home, gotten work accomplished and been fine with it. As it was, my interpretation of “not long” caused me to be furious about the whole situation. Never mind how clean the dogs were – it was a bad experience.

Contrast that with a company who took twice as long as normal to ship an item, but made me happy about it because they set my expectations for it to be even longer. It’s much better than other retailers who have taken longer to ship things, did not pre-warn me about delays, and then tried to mollify the situation by offering a coupon with the late delivery. It doesn’t work that way.

People can tolerate a lot of things – if their expectations are aligned with reality. It’s part of what makes COVID harder – original expectations were for a few weeks or maybe a month, but never through all of 2020.

Give great care to the expectations you set – whether stated or implicit. You can delight people but only if you manage promises carefully so you are able to deliver more than people expect.

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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