John Strom: What people expect from their manager

Most managers don’t give much thought to what their people expect of them as their manager. You think about this more in terms of what you expect the person managing you should be doing for you. Am I right about this?

And I know most managers don’t spend a lot of time asking their people what they expect him/her to do as their manager! I know I wasn’t asked this more than maybe two or three times in my entire work life (and I’ve been working for a long time!).

So, let’s give this concept some thought — what do your people expect of you as their manager?

Wait a minute ... I’d better be clear about whose expectations we are talking about here. We’re talking about what high performing people expect of their manager. We’re not talking about the middle performers or low performers (though I will address these people later).

Your high performing people expect you to:

Do what you say you’ll do: More than anything else, I believe people expect their managers to take the actions they say they’ll take — talk to the people they say they’ll talk to.

Deal with things that aren’t “right:” Your people want you to take action when things aren’t as they should be. This covers a lot of areas, for example: When co-workers aren’t performing as they should, your people expect you to talk with these people and take effective actions to either improve these people’s performance or get rid of them. High performing people want to work around other high performing people. They expect you to have people around them who also perform at a high level. When there are obstacles getting in the way of high performance, your people expect you to take effective action to help them be high performers. If something’s keeping them from high achievement, they expect you to notice and to talk with them about what should be done to remove the obstacle. Then they expect you to work on their behalf to get it removed!

Have high expectations for their performance: High performers expect a lot of themselves and they expect you to expect the same (now that’s a cool statement!). They expect there to be regular conversations about this, too. Don’t hold them back by setting performance goals for them. Engage them in discussion about setting their goals; encourage high goals; even challenge them!

Give them the opportunity to perform: Nothing is more frustrating and limiting than not being given the opportunity for high performance. There needs to be continual discussion about this, too. Ask them: What else would you like to do? Where else can you increase your performance?

High performing people expect you to be their promoter, not their boss!

I mean this in several ways. They expect you to encourage them, to recognize their performance and to let others know about it and about them. And when an opportunity arises, they expect you to give them a shot at it. This may be a promotion, or it may simply be something else they’d like to tackle that intrigues them!

High performers like being told “what needs to be done,” then be given the freedom to work out “how best to do it.” They know what works best for them. Let them self-direct; don’t direct them.

(Note: This doesn’t mean you don’t discuss how they plan to do it. It’s your job as their manager to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Ask them how they see getting it done. Talk through any concerns you may have. Offer ideas and suggestions (they’re just that — they may or may not want to use them). Ultimately, you have to have the confidence that how they plan to do it gets the results you both want. Remember, there are often many alternative ways to achieve these results. Be open to their ways, as they’re thinking of what works best for them. Your ways are what would work for you).

Middle and low performers have different expectations of you as their manager.

You don’t want to meet all the expectations of middle and low performers. Sure, they may want you to “work with them” to improve their performance (at least so they can keep their job!). They also want you to:

Be fair with everyone: By this they mean “don’t expect too much from us.” Average performance is what should be expected — it’s good enough. We’re OK with what we’re doing, you should be, too.

Accept my explanations/excuses for lower performance: There are reasons why I don’t perform at those high levels — they’re legitimate. It’s not my fault.

Don’t play favorites: Don’t give those high performers special recognition, special perks. We all should be treated equally.

You know how I feel about these. Insist on high performance — from everyone. Insist on continual improvement in performance — from everyone. Focus on future performance — what are you going to do to increase future performance? Not why didn’t you perform in the past.

And absolutely play favorites. Those who perform best deserve the best rewards, the best compensation, the best benefits, the best perks. To treat everyone the same is the most unfair thing you can do.

Ultimately you choose the performance level you expect from yourself and others.

High performers expect to work for high performing managers.

Engage and involve your people in continually improving their performance — bringing it up to the highest level possible — for them. Only when it’s at this level can it truly be decided whether or not it meets the expectations of the owners of your business. They expect this of you as a manager in their company. And really, it’s what your people expect of you as their manager.

John Strom is a SCORE Mentor who continues to help managers improve their knowledge and skills to grow their businesses. He has over 30 years experience in coaching, training and consulting in both small and large organizations. His life mission statement is “to help people learn then using that learning to benefit themselves and others.” Contact him through or directly at


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