Don’t Your People Deserve Your Great Expectations…of them?

Written by on November 15, 2013

I was sitting on a plane heading back to Tulsa from San Diego.

I had spoken at a convention and was reflecting on what I could have done to improve the session I led. As I was reflecting, I overhead a conversation behind me between 2 strangers attempting to make small talk.

“I missed my flight and won’t make it in time for my son’s game tonight.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Is his team any good?”
“They have only lost one game so far”.
“How about your son, is he a good football player?”
“Well, he sure thinks he is. He keeps saying he is going to get a football scholarship to OU (Oklahoma University.) I keep telling him he is just going to be disappointed and needs to quit thinking he is going to get paid to play football. There are so few guys that make it to that level.”
“I hear ya. It is pretty tough. What position does he play?”
“Nose guard. Do you know how hard that would be to get a scholarship as a nose guard?”
“Nearly impossible”.

At this point, my curious brain started churning. How hard IS it to get a scholarship as a nose guard? Is it harder than the right tackle? Is he any good? What kind of degree would he want to earn? Does he want to go to an Ivy League school but his Dad is pushing OU? Maybe he won’t make D-1 but I wonder if he could play for a D-2 school? And I wonder, what does a nose guard really want to be when he is out of college? I can’t ever remember meeting someone who was a nose guard.

Then the next question…

“How old is he?”

Wait for it…..


I truly jumped out of my seat and turned around to see what someone that would destroy an eleven year old’s dream looked like. I was stunned to see two men, who looked like they were in fairly good shape and probably even played “back in the day”, agreeing how silly the 11 year old was for thinking he could make it at the college level. I thought about that exchange for the rest of the flight. I was really dumb struck. What should I say to them? Don’t I owe it to the 11 year old to at least comment about how they were being unfair to squash his dreams at such a young age? Do they have any idea how unfair it is to throw in the towel on someone so young?

I didn’t say a word. I didn’t trust myself to say it in a way that wouldn’t come out angry or snarky.  “Hey, just because you two are losers and didn’t make it doesn’t mean he can’t!” That was, after all, all that came to mind!

Clearly the conversation is still with me, and so here is the question to consider. Have you ever made a decision too quickly about someone you hired? Have you ever thought, there is no way they can make it but had to hire them because they are best you could find…only to be surprised by them later? How many people have surprised you in your life? How many people have you hired with some skepticism, that have gone on to be valued members of your team? Our job as leaders is to promote the possibilities of the people we hire, not the probabilities or the statistics of the work force at large. I don’t care how many types of personality tests you dole out, or how long you have been hiring, someone will always surprise you.

I’ve been hiring people for 25 years and the one trait that matters most is….Do they have the burning desire to succeed? You could argue they are either born with it or not, but let’s not.  Let’s just agree that you simply can’t always detect it.

Some people just haven’t been given the right set of circumstances for success. Perhaps no one has ever been patient enough or caring enough to give them the grace they need to learn how to be successful.  Or, no one noticed when someone is struggling and instead of firing them, they find another position where they could shine.  That’s what leadership can do.  It can detect who the right people are and figure out how to make sure they are in the right position.

We have all had that person somewhere in our past that gave us a shot of confidence at just the right time.  Perhaps it was a parent or maybe a coach or even a mentor that just said a few things or treated us in a way that made us know we were special.  Someone that said “you can do better and I expect you to”… and those few words served to ignite that burning desire to succeed.

So, who will surprise you?  Who is on your team right now that you need to give a second look or maybe put in a different position? Do you believe they deserve your great expectations of them? Perhaps the answer to that question is the secret to getting extraordinary results out of ordinary people.

  1. Rosemary Harris   On   November 18, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    So true….I remember hiring a sales consultant that was very introverted and shy but I could see by his results in his previous job he had something special. He ended up being the number one salesperson for the year. The others on the hiring panel said no way, but I had the final say and I said yes. When I asked him about his success he mentioned a teacher early on believed in him and he had never forgotten her words. He is still selling today and doing an amazing job!!!!!

    • Tracy Spears   On   November 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      I think introverts have an advantage it in sales….since the number one key is listening. Glad you saw that in him. (no surprise)

  2. Janet   On   November 18, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    I believe expectations can define the employee/person. Many welcome the opportunity to accomplish more (remember our friend Dorothy?). Others – sadly – “define” themselves as well… A very short amount of time can tell & perhaps eliminate the learning curve required for a new employee. You gave me that opportunity a few years ago, Tracy. I think/hope it worked out okay!

  3. Cindy Hughes   On   November 18, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    I have a friend who has always said, your children are what you tell them. If you tell them they are stupid they will be, if you tell them they are smart they will be. Clearly this father didn’t get that memo.

  4. Sandy Stevenson   On   November 19, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Silence can be just as deterring, I wish my parents had “believed” in me more and that girls could/should go to college. It was the late 70’s and my brother had always heard…”when you go to college…” I however, never heard those words. I had thought seriously about veterinary medicine as a career, I was in the top 10% of my class and at that time women could have easily gotten scholarships in a science career. I never questioned myself either.. I had a job, and was going to go to cosmetology school because I had been cutting hair for free for years. I wonder how different my life would be? Would I be happy? Not sure… I did eventually attend college and now teach high school and cut hair both careers I love.. but I will always wonder.

    • Tracy Spears   On   November 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      So true about silence and the things NOT said. By the way, I bet you would have been an awesome veterinarian!

  5. Amy Reese   On   May 15, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Sorry a little late to the party, just catching up on past articles. Tracy has been that mentor to me, she make me want to be better by simply saying “You can do better, and I expect you to!”

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