Clear Expectations Help People Meet Your Standards

How skilled are you at setting clear expectations and graciously getting people to meet your high standards?

Truth be told, the most successful people generally have the highest standards – that’s why their customers trust them to supply their companies. The downside of having really high standards is it can create friction and frustration with the people that work with you. If the standards of the people on your team are lower than yours, it creates a gap.

That’s part of the leadership puzzle. The challenge is to figure out how to close the standards gap so you deliver what you want, and please the customers that your company serves.

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

The most successful leaders I work with are often perfectionists. They are perfectionists in that they always want things to be as good as they can be, and they’re usually just fighting the clock to get the highest quality they can, with the time that they have.

For those types of leaders, instead of backing off and fixing things themselves, or accepting mediocre-quality work, the key is finding ways to teach their people how to deliver what they expect – to get what they want with a lot less friction.

Set Clear Expectations

Great people really do want to find a way to meet your exceptionally high standards. High performers want to deliver high quality work. The problem is that we, as leaders, often fail to let them know exactly what we expect. As a result, they’re left guessing, and hoping, and wondering – and that’s just a waste of energy.

Starbucks has done an amazing job of training the world how to ask for exactly what they want in their coffee, right down to the temperature they want it to be. The point of this is that we all have preferences, but we need to make them known. Otherwise, we don’t get what we want, and other people are robbed of the opportunity to completely please us, to thrill us.

You need to work on this if you:

  • hesitate to say what you really want because you don’t want to seem demanding to your people. Or, you’ve had bad experience from being like that in the past.
  • often accept results which are less than you expect.
  • fix things yourself so that they meet your standards, and don’t push the work or the repair or the edits back to your team
  • notice the same frustrations keep happening with the same people
  • regularly make do with less than ideal situations. You either tolerate things or accept results that just really aren’t what you had in mnd.

It’s okay to make smart compromises on things that don’t matter. The key is to stop making compromises, or fixing things yourself, on things that are important.

Always Do, Never Do

There are many tools in this chapter that will help you master this principle. The simplest one is the “Always Do, Never Do” list:

  • Make a list of the five things that people should always do, and never do.

Here’s how it works.

You’ve heard stories about rock stars that only want green M&Ms, or only want a certain colour flower in their dressing room before a big performance. We’re not talking about things like that. We’re talking about the general, everyday things that you really prefer that people do, or don’t do.

For example, for me, there are a few things that I always tell people that work with me. One is what I call my 24/7 rule. If it’s a task, it should be completed in 24 hours. If it’s a small project, it should be completed in in seven days. And my expectation is that they’re done in those time frames without me even specifying or asking. My team should just know to turn things around really quickly.

What do you wish that people always did, or never did, that it makes it much easier for them to work with you? This list should result in both of you ending up being a lot happier, and getting what you want.


The people that work with you do want to please you, and give you what you want. But if you don’t tell them – right down to some of the very specifics – they’re often going to be left wondering. And, as a result, wasting time and energy, doing things that don’t matter when they could be doing the things that do.