The Road To Success Is Paved With High Expectations

Building a high-achieving organization isn’t just about hiring the right people—it's also about developing and expanding the abilities of the people you’re leading. 

The art of being a good manager and leader is stretching the people who work for you. Achieving great results comes down to having high expectations of yourself and the people who work for you.  

Think back to the people in your life who helped you to do your best work — to be better than you thought you could be. You may recall a parent, a teacher, a coach or a boss, but whoever they were, these people helped you believe in yourself and pushed you to accomplish things you didn’t think you were capable of. They had high expectations of you and helped you to stretch your abilities.  

The road to success is always under construction, but the people who believe in you can help you get over those obstacles. They can help you get through the inevitable bumps. Sometimes they encourage you, sometimes they push you. Other times they may drag you or even yell at you to help you get through them. Looking back, you’re likely to believe that overcoming those obstacles wasn’t so hard after all. “I did that,” you remind yourself.  

Just as others expected more from you, now it’s your turn to do the same for the people who work for you. You need to recognize what they’re capable of, convey confidence in them, and then find what type of support works best at helping them to give their very best.  

Expectations, which are like goals, should be measurable, achievable, and tie into the overall goals of your organization. You don’t want an expectation or goal that doesn’t help accomplish the overall objectives of the organization, or that isn’t achievable or measurable. Let’s say that you want to reduce your past-due accounts receivables that currently stand at 30 percent. The expectation might be to reduce it to 20 percent by the end of the year. That would certainly tie into the overall objectives of the organization. It’s also measurable—20 percent. And it sounds achievable. If the goal was only to “reduce past-due accounts receivable,” it wouldn’t be measurable as it neglects to state by how much or by when.   

Great leaders have “positive discontent,” which means good isn’t good enough. To build a high-achieving organization, you can never be fully satisfied. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, said that great managers in great organizations give the impression that “you can delight us, but never satisfy us.” People who have high expectations recognize that it’s always possible to improve. For that reason, you should never be satisfied with your own performance or with that of your direct reports. You can always do better, and the day that you’re satisfied is the day that you stop getting better.  

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t praise people when they do something well. In fact, praise motivates people much more than reprimanding does. However, after complimenting the heck out of them, great leaders also then ask their team, “How can we do better?” 

It’s important to set realistic expectations based on past performance rather than on idealistic or unreasonable expectations. Yes, you need to set a high bar for the performance level that you expect others to achieve, but if they’ve never come close to that performance level in the past, you’re setting them up for failure. Your expectations need to be achievable but should push them to exert extra effort.  

Constantly strive to improve every aspect of your organization. To do this, aim high and know how to stretch your people without breaking them.  

Robert J. Kohlhepp joined Cintas Corporation in July 1967 as controller. Over a span of 50 years with Cintas, he was promoted to positions of general manager, vice president and treasurer, executive vice president, president, and CEO, then served as Vice Chair and Board Chair until retiring in 2016. Additionally, Kohlhepp has served on several association, corporation, nonprofit and university boards. His new book is Building a Better Organization. Visit robertkohlhepp.com.