Toolbox Treasures – Exceeding Expectations

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After a bit of a break, I am back with another blog for leaders, aspiring leaders, and followers to help you achieve greater success in your endeavors. As with all of the leadership blogs I write and my book, Top 10 Leadership Lessons: Commonsense Leadership Tools for the Shift Supervisor and Chief Executive Alike, I try to provide commonsense tools for personal development that any person can apply, regardless of professional sector or position. I hope my leadership thoughts provide some great inspiration to you as you read them, and I encourage you to share them with your friends, family, and colleagues. Without further ado, as they say on Sesame Street, “today’s lesson is sponsored by the letter E …”

Today I wanted to touch on a topic that I believe is important for both leadership and personal growth, and that is Exceeding Expectations. Whether you are a contributing member of a team or organization, or the leader of one of those, you are certain to achieve higher levels of success by not just meeting expectations, but exceeding them. In business, this may mean exceeding quarterly revenue estimates. In sports, this could be winning a championship after being picked to finish no higher than a third seed in your division in the pre-season (Golden State Warriors – National Basketball Association (NBA) Champions 2015. I’ll come back to the Warriors later …) In other professions, it may simply mean doing more than what your supervisors ask of you to improve the processes, products, or people in your organization. So, if Exceeding Expectations leads to greater success, why doesn’t everyone do it? Glad you asked; here’s my take …

First, let’s look at some recommended traits for both leaders and team members to lead them to Exceed Expectations. Leaders need to Encourage those they work with to Exceed Expectations. Often a simple statement like “that was a great plan you put together today; keep up the great work” will encourage the members of your team to try even harder. It will also show the members of your team that you as the leader are Engaged in what they are doing.

While Encouragement and Engagement are important characteristics of leaders, what are some personal development factors of team members that help them to Exceed Expectations? Although not all-encompassing, a list of some of those essential factors would include the following:

Eagerness or Enthusiasm – Individuals who are Eager or Enthusiastic to improve processes, create better products, develop individuals for greater responsibilities, through innovative and motivated work will often yield fantastic results. They are genuinely Excited about what they do and how they can make significant contributions to the success of the organization.

Efficiency – Individuals who are Efficient accomplish the work in a timely manner. Not only do they often finish ahead of schedule (less cost in time), but also under budget (less cost in time), and with less direct supervision (less cost in the leader’s time). However, individuals should couple their Efficiency with a third factor …

Effectiveness – Individuals who Exceed Expectations carry out their work Eagerly; they do it Efficiently; and those traits then help them to be Effective. They understand what the objective is – build or sell this many products; win this many games; develop a winning plan with the resources available, etc. They then take that understanding of the objective, and although they know the minimum requirement, they never aim for that, but instead aim well beyond the minimum goal. That is how they raise Effectiveness to the next level.

Let me give you a simple example to tie all of this together so far. Many of you reading this blog have children, or you probably have siblings, friends, or colleagues with children. At the very least, you were once a child yourself, so everyone will understand this. As parents we encourage our children to pay attention in school and study hard so they can do well on homework assignments and exams to achieve good grades that will hopefully assist their entry into better universities and perhaps even secure an academic scholarship. As a father, I Encourage my children and I’m Engaged in helping them with homework and in providing assistance with their studying / revising when they need my help. As for my children, they are Eager to do well in school because they understand how that will help when it comes time to look at universities. They Efficiently build schedules as exam time approaches to prepare themselves through appropriate dedication to studying / revision. Finally, they approach their grades doing everything in their power to try to earn an A or even an A+ / (A* in the British system) because they want to be Effective learners. They may not always achieve an A, but that is always the grade they are pursuing, and that is what leads to greater Effectiveness in the long run.

Now that we’ve looked at some traits of leaders and team members to Emulate to help them Exceed Expectations, a second point to discuss is the Expulsion of a trait that more often than not keeps people from Exceeding – or even meeting – Expectations. That trait is Ego. I said earlier that I would get back to the Golden State Warrior NBA Championship. After game 5 of the NBA Finals, a game that put the Golden State Warriors up 3-2 in the series and one win away from winning the best of 7 series, a reporter asked LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers if he felt pressure going into game 6. His response was, “I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world.” That’s a pretty bold statement – Egotistical even if you ask me. It is true that during the 2015 playoffs LeBron James was the first player in Finals history to lead both teams in points per game (35.8), assists per game (8.8), and rebounds per game (13.3), and it is certainly possible that he just might be the best basketball player in the world right now. At a minimum he is one of the best basketball players in the world and I think his statistics back that up. Nevertheless, LeBron James and his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, lost game 6 to the Golden State Warriors, and lost the series 4-2. What’s the moral of the story? It’s pretty simple, really. LeBron James seemed to forget after game 5 that he was just one person playing a TEAM sport, and the better TEAM defeated a great INDIVIDUAL player on the other team. For all of LeBron James’s incredible individual play in the NBA playoffs, he let his Ego surrounding his individual abilities cloud his leadership of his team to Exceed Expectations and win the NBA Finals. Instead, that honor went to the team that no one expected to see in the NBA Finals in the pre-season – the Golden State Warriors.

So with some “E” traits to Emulate and one “E” trait to Expel from your toolbox for leadership and personal development, a third and final look at a factor for Exceeding Expectations involves Evaluating Employee Engagement. What do I mean by that? Well, rather than have me explain on my own, let me introduce you to a man I was introduced to a little more than a year ago, Mr. Mike Figliuolo. Mike is the Managing Director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, a brilliant leadership company, and his new book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results, was just released yesterday, 20 July. I encourage all of you to check out information on Mike’s new book at this site: http://www.leadinsidethebox.com. I ordered my book this past Wednesday and can’t wait to read it in full, because I found the information on the website, which is just a snapshot of the book, to be quite fascinating.

On the website, Mike talks about how the premise of his book is to find what box employees fit into, and the amount of time that requires for leaders to engage with individuals in the various boxes. Earlier I asked the question, “If Exceeding Expectations leads to greater success, why doesn’t everyone do it?” Well, according to Mike’s description of employees, some employees are ‘Stowaways.’ Mike defines these people as those “trying to hang on to their role (and paycheck) while producing the bare minimum required.” Mike states that these people may not cause the leader a great deal of trouble because they are not Engaged Employees, but they certainly are not going to Exceed Expectations.

On the other hand, Mike categorizes another group of employees as The Exemplars (thanks for starting that with “E”, Mike!), a group he defines as those who are the “clear stars on your team who produce great results with little assistance from you.” The Exemplars are those who Exceed Expectations. What does an Exemplar look like? Well let me give you three examples of where I work in an Air Operations Center (AOC) for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

First there is the American Lieutenant Colonel whose primary Air Force training was a pilot for large transport aircraft, but he led the Offensive Plans Branch for the Combat Plans Division and Master Air Operations Plan (MAOP) Team for the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC). This meant he was responsible for determining packages of fighter and bomber aircraft, and the appropriate weapons and tactics in some cases, to strike targets to achieve the desired effects for the JFACC, despite having no flying time in a fighter or bomber aircraft. The AOC Director, who is a U.S. Air Force Colonel and a fighter pilot, thought for certain the first time he heard this officer brief that he, too, had a fighter or bomber background due to the complex, well-thought-out plan that he and his team designed. He Exceeded Expectations.

Second there is the British Warrant Officer who earned recognition as a Superior Performer during her first NATO exercise? Why? She earned this accolade because two other Intelligence manning positions for the exercise dropped out at the last minute, so she filled the role of three separate positions during the exercise … and executed each of those roles to perfection, raising the Intelligence awareness for the members of three different divisions. She Exceeded Expectations.

Finally there is the Belgian First Sergeant who is the most junior ranking person in the Combat Plans Division. Yet, despite his rank, as a Database Manager he developed an Oracle Cloud system for the servers that run the planning and execution database. Prior to his cloud system, the planning system only allowed a certain number of operators to use the system on a given server at one time, and if more operators tried to get on the server, it would usually crash. In the last major exercise, he ran his Oracle Cloud system and enabled more than 5 times as many users to work with the software at the same time, while only utilizing 5% of the total server capacity. As a result of his work with this Oracle Cloud program and other exceptional insights into database security and resiliency, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Philip M. Breedlove, just presented the 2014 Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Military Member of the Year Award to this outstanding professional last Monday. He Exceeded Expectations.

Exceeding Expectations is fundamental to sustained success for leadership and personal development. It involves leaders who are Encouraging and Engaged, and team members who are Eager, Efficient, and Effective. Exceeding Expectations also requires both leaders and team members to leave their Egos behind if they want to successfully lead or contribute to team success. Finally, leaders need to Evaluate Employee Engagement and look for the Exemplars who will take their organizations to the greatest heights of success, because it is those Exemplars on the team, and the leaders who Encourage that Exemplary behavior that will Exceed Expectations nearly every time.