“Four Things Groups Want that Leaders Can’t Give — and One They Can” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

One of my favorite quotes comes from Rosabeth Moss Kanter who is a professor at the Harvard Business School and the author of Confidence and SuperCorp. She once wrote:  “Everything seems like failure in the middle.” She is so right! Sometimes success is right around the corner, but we give up too soon!

She wrote a great little article she has written called “Four Things Groups Want that Leaders Can’t Give — and One They Can.” Here are some of the highlights:

“Emerging group experiences have predictable dynamics, whether they are new project teams, training and development programs, wilderness experiences, or just people learning new jobs. People form relationships based on first impressions and sometimes-false hopes, find that things haven’t gone as imagined, and then struggle through confusion and misunderstanding to create their own positive norms that help them work effectively. The best leaders help people through these stages only to find some common issues popping up — things people seem to want that even the best leaders can’t provide.

Anticipating these dilemmas makes it easier to resolve them. Here are four desires that are almost impossible to satisfy:

  1. Absolutely clear expectations about everything. Expectation-setting sounds good as a leadership principle but is difficult in practice, especially when leaders try to tell people about things they haven’t yet encountered and do not yet have the experience to comprehend.
  2. Perfect certainty about the future. A related demand some groups make is that everything should be known in advance and unfold without variation. Yet, even the best plans, with alternative scenarios and multiple contingencies, still fall prey to unanticipated events. My favorite unfortunate example is the volcanic ash that disrupted Europe in April; who would have built that unlikely event into their project or program plans?
  3. Yes all the time. Leaders are the linchpins linking their groups to the wider organization, marketplace, or community. When leaders do this well, they protect the group from intrusions by the surrounding systems so that the group members can focus on their work.
  4. The ending at the beginning. This wish is an impossible fantasy. When groups finish their tasks or experiences on a highly positive note, members often say that later experiences should have been offered earlier — that they would have been able to do their work even more effectively if things that happened at the end had happened at the beginning.

These tensions go with the leadership territory. It helps to be aware of them and remain unrattled while working through them.

But here’s the good news. The one thing groups want that leaders can always provide, with predictably positive results, is TLC — tender loving care. People respond well to a sympathetic ear and frequent communication. Knowing that leaders care about their success can help people let go of the rest.”

To read the rest of the article, go here.

What do you think, are there other ways to adjust the expectations of those we serve?  What else can we give or shouldn’t be expected to give?

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