Starting when he was 6 years old, I coached my son’s basketball team for the next 5 years until he was old enough to find coaches that really knew what they were doing. During that time when our relationship extended to coach-player, I didn’t treat him the same way I treated all of my players. I loved all my kids and I wanted them all to learn and to fall in love with the game of basketball. But, I had higher standards for my son. I expected him to pay attention and behave appropriately in practice all the time, no exceptions. I expected him to pick up on things I taught a little quicker. I just expected a little more from him because he was my son and I knew that he was capable of living up to these exceptions. After games, he would get feedback and additional coaching on his performance that my other players didn’t get. Partly because I didn’t have the other kids in my car on the drive home, but mainly because he was my son and I knew that if I didn’t give him that coaching, he was going to miss the opportunity to grow.
As a parent, I’m likely to have higher expectations for my children in all areas. I expect my children to behave more appropriately than others. I expect them to do their best in school and what ever else they decide to do. I expect my kids to work hard. My parents had high expectations of me. I became aware at some point when I was growing up that I was held to a higher standard than most of my peers. At the time, I wasn’t always a fan of it, but today I am so very thankful. Those high expectations developed me in ways that serve me really well today. So, I chose to have high expectations of my children as well. (Disclaimer here to prevent you from thinking I’m a nut job. I don’t expect my kids to be something they aren’t capable of or that isn’t them. I expect them to be the best they can be in regards to the things they can control (effort, choices, etc.). Also, when I say kids, I’m mainly talking about my 14 year old since my two little ones are still pretty young.)
Parents are often have high expectations for their children. They expect more of them because they love them, they want them to realize their potential, they want them to succeed and be happy, and they know that if they don’t take on the role to provide the tough love to their kids when it’s needed, no one will.
So, why don’t we do the same as managers and leaders? Why is it that our tendency is to back off our people, to let them off easy? If we really care about the people we lead and we want them to live up to their potential and to be successful, then don’t we owe it to them to hold them to higher standards? More critically than that, don’t we owe it to our people to be honest with them about their performance and development, to tell them the hard truth when it’s needed? Because here’s the thing, if you aren’t telling your people the truth about their performance and helping them see where they are great and where they aren’t so great, no one will. And you are setting them up for a fall down the road at some point where they will come face to face with their limitations and it will feel to them like have a bucket of ice water thrown in their face. They will wonder why no one cared enough to tell them before that moment.
Softening feedback and lowering expectations hurts people. Care for your people enough to believe they care capable of great performance and then hold them to that standard. They may not always like you in the moment, but if they know you care about them, they will recognize in the long run how much you have made them better.