Enjoy this excerpt from our new book, Healthy Leadership.

The most common type of expectations leaders set are deadlines. This is only natural. We live in a world that trains us to meet deadlines, starting in grade school: your paper is due May 1; finish your community service hours by Aug. 1; taxes are due April 15; the budget is due Nov. 15; your annual goals are due Jan. 15; your payment is due by Feb. 1.

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Your team’s inherent desire is to meet a deadline to please you, their leader; however, people typically fail to consider timelines before committing to deadlines. Healthy leaders focus on timelines (when work gets done) to meet deadlines (when work is due).

Here’s an example of what this looks like. It’s a Tuesday morning and you say to an employee: “Hey, Ryan, I need this market analysis finalized by Friday noon. It should only take a few hours to clean it up from the last draft you showed me. Can you please do that for me?” Ryan replies, “Sure, I’ll take care of it!”

Then Ryan goes back to his office, checks his calendar, and says to himself, “Oh, shoot! I didn’t realize I had all these commitments and have no available time between now and Friday noon.” At this point, the typical response is to go into face-saving and avoidance modes.

Ryan believes he cannot go back on his word after he so confidently told you he would take care of it. He also hopes that if he just avoids it, you might forget to ask him for the analysis at noon on Friday. Yes, these responses sound irrational and even ridiculous, but they’re very predictable human tendencies in the workplace.

Fast forward . . . when Friday noon arrives, you naturally expect the analysis from Ryan. By 1 p.m., you swing by his office to ask him where it is. Ryan’s stomach sinks as he comes clean. You’re frustrated because you, like any leader, hate surprises when it comes to missed deadlines and expected deliverables.

Ryan does not feel good about his performance, and neither do you. It’s a lose-lose situation, as the results are not delivered on time and the relationship credibility is damaged. This is a predictable scenario when you don’t ask about your team members’ timelines before they commit to deadlines.

Healthy leaders define a vision, establish foundational values, and align expectations. The common denominator to harness all these drivers of success is one thing: clarity.

Healthy Leadership Book