Dealing with Heightened Expectations in the Workplace

Expectations are a necessary and normal part of our everyday lives – both personal and professional. Creating and managing expectations of ourselves and others drives self-identity and perceived happiness. In fact, a study from the University of Cambridge found that happiness is not a result of how well we are doing, but whether we are doing better than we expected (Psychology Today).

For the most ambitious of us who seek to pursue our dreams, the high expectations we have of ourselves and the expectations others (employees, customers/clients, investors, community, etc.) have of us is essential – but also scary. What we may fear is not the hard work ahead but the evolution of ourselves that is likely necessary to meet those expectations. When we can’t imagine that elevated version of ourself or the path to get there, perhaps we manage the expectations down to something we perceive as more attainable. Maybe we hold ourselves back by failing to delegate, fearing that others will not meet the necessary standard. Or, perhaps we fail to even begin our pursuit of greatness to protect ourselves from failure.

In short, we may develop a fear of success or “Achievemephobia.” At the crux of this phenomenon is, in part, a struggle with heightened expectations. However, it is possible to embrace heightened expectations rather than fear them by: 1) prioritizing your purpose, 2) leaning into delegation, and 3) embracing the value of failure. Let’s explain:

  1. Prioritize Your Purpose — The day-to-day administrative and financial tasks that are necessary for every business or organization’s survival and profitability often take attention away from mission and impact. Now, these two areas are not mutually exclusive, a fact supported by numerous research studies. One study by Deloitte Insights found that profitability is a byproduct of being a purpose-driven company. In fact, the range of research shows that relative to their peers, purpose-driven companies are more profitable, attract and retain better talent, and grow faster. Therefore, prioritizing the impact you seek to make, is good for the business and creates personal clarity. 
    To ensure this focus persists, it is important to emphasize organizational values or the behavioral guidelines that your company refuses to compromise in its work. Doing so further cements your organization’s commitment to its mission and creates guiding boundaries for managing expectations. Additionally, values communicate the experience clients should expect and the framework to which you and your organization adhere with partners, sponsors, and others. Values may evolve over time, but despite nuanced evolution, they continue to provide the framework for managing expectations on multiple fronts.

  2. Lean into Delegation — While it can be challenging, relinquishing responsibility of essential tasks is necessary for professional growth and advancement. Ambitious professionals tend to resist delegating to and trusting others to get work done. Unsurprisingly, this reluctance is counter-productive to organizational growth and handling escalating expectations.
    Delegating may feel uncomfortable and inefficient in the short term, but it undoubtedly enables scaling and increased productivity over the long term. Enabling others to take on time-intensive, low-lift tasks, frees bandwidth to focus on more critical tasks. And most importantly, delegating relieves the pressure of expectations by reducing workload and demonstrating the ability to handle increased demand across the organization. 

  3. Embrace the Value of Failure — Naturally, as responsibility increases or the organization grows, anxiety tends to follow suit. At the root of this dynamic is a sense of vulnerability that acts as a barrier to managing expectations. Leading an organization is an endeavor that creates exposure to failure and public scrutiny. A client of ours once shared, “I had self-doubt that we wouldn’t be able to meet our expectations and the expectations of others, and that we would fail publicly.”
    How we decide to manage this feeling of self-doubt is within our control. Striving for perfection can drive success, but we often forget the importance of the failures that inevitably occur. Accepting, embracing, and openly communicating that occasional failures are a necessary part of the journey ensures that your employees all know that failure can lead to critical lessons…and improvements.

Our client also shared, “It wasn’t until I told myself it was okay to fail as long as I gave it my everything, and once I accepted that, that fear went away.” This simple shift in mindset can be the difference between one’s ability to remain composed when expectations are at their highest.

Professional success and growth inevitably bring increased expectations and pressure. How we respond is often the determining factor for sustainable success. Rather than allowing heightened expectations to inhibit the best version of yourself and your colleagues, commit to refocusing on your purpose, leaning into delegation, and embracing vulnerability and the value of failure. By opening yourself up to change and new perspectives, it’s likely you’ll open more opportunities for success and enjoy the journey a lot more in the process.