Expectations for leadership behavior

The simplest way to be clear about behavioral expectations for leaders is to communicate which behaviors achieve the results your business wants — not with a list of competencies that may or may not link to outcomes. Companies that don’t examine the behaviors that lead to the desired outcomes are liable to confuse leaders about what is expected of them.

That’s not at all unusual. Though knowing what is expected of them at work is an employee’s most fundamental need, Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report found that only six in 10 employees know what those expectations are. What’s more, just 41% strongly agree that their job description aligns well with the work they are asked to do.

The lack of clear expectations and accurate job descriptions creates an ever-present fear of being exposed as incompetent and being punished for it.

And managers may be worse off than the teams they lead. According to Gallup’s first perspective paper in a series on this topic, The Manager Experience: Top Challenges & Perks of Managers, managers are:

  • 15 percentage points more likely to say they have multiple competing priorities
  • four points less likely to say their job description is clear or that it aligns to the work they do
  • six points more likely to feel stress during a lot of the workday
  • 11% less likely to strongly agree they get to do what they do best every day.

The lack of clear expectations and accurate job descriptions creates an ever-present fear of being exposed as incompetent and then being punished for it. Leaders have a real incentive to meekly accept lists of competency requirements, even if the requirements don’t align with their role.

Consequently, HR’s performance reviews can’t be entirely realistic or comprehensive. When HR must rely on an ambiguous, inconsistent, contradictory array of traits, skills, capabilities, knowledge, behaviors, and responsibilities — and trust, this describes far too many competency models — the job is far more difficult than it has to be.

What HR needs, what all leaders and managers need, is a fresh look at the behaviors that actually contribute to performance, development and success.

Recently, Gallup researchers conducted a study involving more than 550 job roles and 360 unique job competencies. It showed that leaders achieve success, despite varied roles, organizations, and industries, by focusing on the behaviors within these seven expectations:

  1. Build relationships.Establish connections with others to build trust, share ideas and accomplish work.
  2. Develop people.Help others become more effective through strengths development, clear expectations, encouragement and coaching.
  3. Lead change.Recognize that change is essential, set goals for change and lead purposeful efforts to adapt work that aligns with the stated vision.
  4. Inspire others.Encourage others through positivity, vision, confidence, challenge and recognition.
  5. Think critically.Seek information, critically evaluate the information, apply the knowledge gained and solve problems.
  6. Communicate clearly.Listen, share information concisely and with purpose, and be open to hearing opinions.
  7. Create accountability.Identify the consequences of actions and hold yourself and others responsible for performance.

Changing the expectation from a focus on competency to behavior instead allows organizations and their leaders to focus on the critical expectations of the job, not the things no one can control (e.g., idiosyncrasies), overly specific requirements (e.g., specific knowledge), and unrealistic aspirations (e.g., irrelevant skills).

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