Expect the Best From People – You Just Might Get It

Last month I delivered a Keynote Speech on leadership to over 100 top managers of  the TBC Retail Group; one of the USA’s largest wholesale and retail chains of tire and auto service centers.

One theme I spoke on is how being a great manager or leader is a lot like being a great parent (Of course, in my experience as both, I’ve noticed you hear a hell of a lot more whining as a manager).  I talked about 8 keys to creating self-motivated people that work for your staff as well as your kids.  One of my favorites keys is: “Expect the best.”

When you expect the best from people and not only communicate that fact, plus let them know you have confidence they can do it, you’ll be amazed at how often you get the best.  The opposite is also true.

Have you ever witnessed a parent who tells a child, “You’ll never amount to anything.  Everything you touch turns to crap?”  Then, some years later they get a call telling them their kid’s been arrested and they’re amazed.  What are you amazed about?  You predicted it!  You should be proud.  You were right!

Years ago, I had a boss who taught me everything about how NOT to be a great leader.  He held sales meetings Friday afternoon at 5:30PM.  His purpose was to ruin our weekends.  Every meeting started the same way.  We would sit in his office, silently, while he sat behind his desk staring at us for about 30 seconds.  Finally, he’d look up and say, “I just want youse guys (Brooklyn native) to know, youse all suck!”

What a motivator!  You just wanted to run through a brick wall for this guy.  He was so clueless that one day he had the nerve to ask me, “Why is our turnover so high?”

What did he expect?  People will ALWAYS rise or fall to your level of communicated expectation.

Let me tell you about my daughter, Emily.

Emily turned 19 last month.  She is a sophomore at High Point University in High Point, NC and is doing great!  Her grades are better than they’ve ever been (all A’s and B’s).  She is an active member of a sorority; has a job on campus; is active in campus activities and is really taking advantage of the entire college experience.  In addition, she’s a pleasure to be around and is just a really great kid, who I have high hopes for.  However, that wasn’t always the case.

From 8th grade through high school Emily was a swift pain in the butt.  She was your typical surly, moody teenager.  As a student she was, at best, disinterested, at worst, the part of the class that makes the top half possible.  Have you ever gone to a parent/teacher conference and asked your kid just before you walk in, “How’s it going in this class?”  They say, “Fine,” and then the first thing the teacher hits you with is, “Emily is missing 11 assignments!”  Don’t you love those conversations?

Normal conversations (both mine and Linda’s) with her would go like this: “How’s school Em?” “Fine.”  “Anything happen today.” “No.” “Have any homework.”  “A little.”  There were the screaming matches too.  “I hate you.”  “You hate me.”  “None of my friends ever have to do that.”  Or, of course, “My friends get to do (or have) ________, why can’t I?”  That one bugged me so much I finally said, “Hey Em, how come you never say, “My friends get all A’s, how come I don’t?”

There was the usual sneaking out of the house stuff.  The friends we never got to meet and the ones we did know but weren’t crazy about and of course, the boys (it doesn’t help that Em is a very pretty girl).  To sum it up, Em was a “Valley Girl” who was going to major in “Shopping Mall.”

We threatened her; punished her; grounded her; took away privilege upon privilege; bailed her out (not jail, but school) and let her sink.  Finally, we’d just throw up our hands and say, “Well, at least she didn’t fail.  A “C” is not bad.”  We had low expectations and Emily was just as happy to fulfill them.  She loved playing the dumb, clueless blond.  But then, late in her senior year of high school, it all changed.

The Turning Point

For eleven years Emily had been a member and captain of the Bouncing Bulldogs Rope Skipping Team.  Every year the team has an End of Year Banquet, where the graduating seniors give a speech.  In Em’s senior year she was one of five girls graduating; three of them top students going on to big time schools.  Linda and I were worried that Em was going to “Fall on her face.”

I told her I would not write the speech for her but I’d help her with the editing and coach her.  Two days before the banquet I asked how the speech was coming.  She screamed, “I don’t know what to write.” Finally, I told her just write what you feel.  Talk about your experiences and all the friends you’ve made.

The next day Emily hands me a copy of the speech to edit.  I was blown away.  I said to Linda, “You’re not going to believe this, it’s great!  There’s nothing to edit.”  I told Em I loved it, gave her 2 to 3 minutes of coaching and that was it.

The night of the banquet she blew the place away. It was amazing.  She was funny, poignant and poised.  Eye contact: perfect.  Ability to deliver a punch line: phenomenal.  There were people asking me if I wrote it (NOPE).  Did I coach her for weeks (NOPE; 3 minutes).  It was all Emily.

The next day I sat her down and said, “Em, you blew your cover.  The jig is up.  After that performance you will never again convince us that you can’t do ANYTHING you put your mind to.  The dumb blonde routine is not going to work on your mother and me, because last night, you blew it.

So here’s the deal.  The bar has been raised and you’re the one who raised it.  From now on a C is not acceptable.  Your mother and I will only accept A and B work because we’ve seen the kind of A+ work you’re capable of.   You blew away every one of those girls who were SUPPOSED to be smarter and more articulate than you.

I stated earlier, Emily knocked it out of the park her freshman year, so I sat her down and we decided to raise the bar ever higher in this, her sophomore year and she’s living up to all the expectations and more, which is no surprise to me.

Far too many people in this world suffer from the disease of low expectations.  Whether you’re a parent, manager, business owner, teacher or anyone else in a leadership position; expect the best from people.  Communicate that fact to them and let them know that YOU KNOW they are more than capable of doing and being the best and you’ll amazed at how often you get the best.  That too is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

5 Responses to “Expect the Best From People – You Just Might Get It”

  1. Diana Wing says:

    Awesome article! The principle of expecting the best and expressing it, is simple but so easily forgotten or overlooked. Thanks for the clear illustration of how effective expecting the best can be.

  2. Bill D says:

    Warren stumbled upon this blog post. Great story one that I’ve shared with my team. The story ring true for me since my daughter is the same age. Good luck to Emily who should be graduating this May.

  3. Ed Johnson says:

    “One of my favorite books is Bringing Out The Best in People, By Alan Loy McGinnis. It changed my life.
    It taught me to see people not as they are, but as they can become.

    My lifelong goal is to be a Life Enricher, and this book gave me a real jump start.

    A book that I have read literally every day for over a year now is Joel Osteen’s book, I Declare. It contains 31 Positive
    Declarations, and short stories to illustrate each the 31 declarations.

    Day Twenty-Three begins with: “I Declare I am a people Builder. I will look for opportunities to encourage others to bring out the best in them, and to help them accomplish their dreams.” He tells the story of how Thomas Edison encouraged Henry Ford, when he had just about convinced himself to give up.

    No-one else had encouraged him up to that point, but along came Edison and spoke words of faith into him. That was a turning point in Henry Ford’s life. He went on to invent the first automobile.”


    Ed Johnson, J.D., Attorney
    American Anti-Cancer Institute
    Board of Advisors, Life Enricher
    Life Enricher

  4. Gue ting Xuan says:

    Thanks for this good read,I will expect the best from myself(because I am the one who lower my own expectation) and be just like your daughter,”bom”,decide to make a different and from there onwards always do the best and expect the best!!

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