“You stop wight dere, Satin! Wight NOW!!”

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I have been woefully delinquent in posting the last few months (ok, really the last year *blush*). I have been trying to find equilibrium in my own sea of change. I finished the rest of my undergraduate requirements and am not three classes into my Master’s degree. As I mentioned previously, I am working on an MS in Organizational Change Leadership. I am loving the material, but the workload is intense on top of a full time job and 2 ½ horses, but I am finally finding a rhythm with it all and hope to return to routinely posting.

The topic I had wanted to address this week was consistency and expectations. My original title was “You Are Your Own Worst Enemy”. But then I saw the picture above on Facebook this morning (photo credit Amanda Vidler Mars) and decided to go a completely different direction on the same topic.

I am always amazed when I see horses with small children. These 1200 pound animals, with very strong opinions, become so sweet and compliant around the “little humans”. In an anthropomorphic way, we all want to believe they know these children are small and they are taking care of them. And maybe they are. But horses don’t tend to work that way. They are typically just the opposite. If given an opening, a weak leader or a timid rider, they have a tendency to take advantage the first chance they get. I can cue my horse non-stop to pick up the lope and if she isn’t feeling it or I don’t stick with it there is no way she is putting in the effort. Yet we can put a 40 pound child on her back, whose legs don’t even reach past the saddle, and one slight tap or cluck and Jasmine becomes the perfect horse. She listens, she responds, she is respectful and patient. She is the unicorn.

As I was working with my client yesterday, trying to get them to stop enabling bad behaviors and to find the backbone to lead, I realized something. It’s not about the horse, it’s about the rider. When I ask my horse to do something, part of me processes the fact that it might not work. She might not back when I walk into her, she might not pick up the lead. I already have failure in mind and often a backup plan. I already know how I am going to compensate for not following my directions and have without meaning to already given her an out. She reads it in my tone and in my body language. When I question the outcome she questions the directions I am giving her.

Children don’t do that. Rebel can completely control these three horses because she means what she says and she expects nothing less than full compliance. There is no maybe in her directions. Her voice, her body language don’t waiver. Her expectations are clear and the horses follow without question. She gets the outcome she wants because she asks with expectations.

How often do we are business leaders or as parents ask with expectation? Too often we lead by recommendation. I watch managers tell their employees “I would like that on my desk by Friday morning”. Already the expectation is that it might not happen and that the deadline is a wish. This is very different than saying “I expect it on my desk by Friday morning”. One gives the recipient a say in the outcome, the latter sets the plan.

How many of you as parents have said to your children “If you eat your vegetables you can have dessert”. Already you have questioned the outcome and given the power over to the child whether they want to comply or not. The possibility of failure is included in the directions.

The message matters, we all know that. As leaders we spend a lot of time crafting messages. We worry how they will be received but more importantly we worry how we will be perceived. Are we being too difficult? Too demanding? Too brisk? But we spend very little time crafting the expectations in our directions.  It is a fine line between being polite and being soft, between being a suggestor or a leader. Much of the response we receive from those we lead is rooted in how we ask.

True leaders know how to channel their inner two year old and ask with expectation.