At its most basic level, the job of a leader is to equip team members with knowledge and tools to be successful. A leader is only successful if his/her team is successful. That includes educating team members on organizational systems like budgeting, goal setting, authority levels for spending and training.

The leader must also educate his/her team on informal “learning the ropes” things like company culture norms during working hours, lunchtime, meetings etiquette, attire, how presentations are made, key people to keep in the loop and how decisions are really made, regardless of what a policy states.

Equipping your team by explaining these aspects of the job is not a one-time thing you check off your leadership list. Excellent leaders continually explain, educate and equip their team with tips, tools, training and insights.

Reliable performance starts at the beginning of the performance process. If we wait until the end, then we are simply imposing consequences rather than inspiring positive performance. That’s why aligning on expectations is the foundation for reliable team performance.

Expectation Gaps Lead to Execution Gaps

The large majority of performance frustrations stem from not communicating clear expectations up front. Therefore, the coaching key is to front-end-load reliability. You and your team should be able to easily align on the answer to this question: “How will I know if I have met expectations?”

We cannot rely on others’ perceptions of our expectations. The imperfect nature of human communication requires us to be more specific than we think we need to be. Lack of clear expectations is the most common reason for performance problems.

There is not really a close second. Gaining alignment through clear expectations is job #1 for excellent leaders.

The Fundamental Four

To gain alignment, explain your answers to the fundamental four questions. These are questions that every employee asks, regardless of whether you hear them:

  1. Where are we going? (Goals)
  2. What are we doing to get there? (Plans)
  3. How can I contribute? (Roles)
  4. What’s in it for me? (Rewards)

Like any aspect of leadership, gaining alignment does not just happen. It must be intentional. Our late friend and excellent leader Ron Rossetti liked to say, “Awesomeness is never accidental.”

Our clients who paint a clear picture for their teams are intentional about answering the fundamental four questions. They use the questions as a checklist to ensure that the content of significant company communications address each question.

The alignment in their organizations is notably greater and their results are notably more reliable. Answering the fundamental four creates a bridge that connects today’s tasks to the broader team purpose.

Excellent leaders help their teams see and understand the longer-term, downstream impact of their personal performance on team results, on the organization, on customers, on shareholders and ultimately on themselves (what’s in it for me?). When employees see how their actions help or hinder others, it aligns their performance with clear consequences.

The personal impact to an employee might include opportunities for promotions, development, exposure to executives, public recognition, expanded responsibilities, flexibility in the job, oversight of others, ownership of projects and/or financial rewards.

Informal Communication

In addition to formal communication, explain expectations for your team with each informal communication – walking in the hallway, popping into their workspace to see how they are doing, etc.

With today’s information-overloaded workplace, it can be challenging to decide what to communicate to employees and what to withhold. It’s easy to say (usually to ourselves), “They don’t really need to know all that,” or, “My team won’t really understand,” or, “I don’t think they can handle that news right now.” But be cautious because those who underestimate the intelligence of others tend to overestimate their own.


“Lee and Julie deliver powerful lessons. As inspirational as it is practical. A vital tool for leaders at any career stage. An extraordinary book!” 

Marshall Goldsmith, The Thinkers 50  #1 Leadership Thinker in the World