Maybe we lost sight of our greater expectations…

121841“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation” Charles Kettering, Inventor

It is always startling to me, in a good way, when I have the same conversation in multiple parts of my life without seeing the parallel. It isn’t until I am processing them all that I realize, wait it’s the same issue. Today three seemingly unrelated conversations all came together around one word.

The first was a conversation with a friend about “special snowflakes” (aka Millennials) and their lack of self-sufficiency. We were debating whether this was the fault of the child or the parent.

The second was a dialog with my younger brother about society, culture and how do we fix the culture of a group if we agree it is broken.

The third conversation was about a friend’s horse and him trying to take advantage of his young rider. The rider bends to his will and gives in instead of standing up to the horse and persevering. The example was the horse not wanting to work. He pins his ears when he feels the saddle being cinched. Instead of pushing him through it the young rider feels bad for him, takes the saddle off and either doesn’t ride or rides bareback. Now the ears have become a learned behavior. He knows if he pins his ears with her she will let him out of what he doesn’t feel like doing. My friend is working with the rider to get her to be more “assertive” with him. The word stuck me a little off as we were discussing teaching children to understand how horses think.

One of the projects that has been on my mind a lot lately is putting together a client/workshop to teach people how to be better leaders. Whether they are parents, teachers, CEO’s or riders. I see a place for horses in this. It closely parallels my booklet (book in progress) “Saddling up to Leadership”. As I was mentioning this to the horse owner a lightening bolt hit me.

In all three conversations the answer is EXPECTATIONS!

Why can a child not do their own laundry? Because their parents never expected them to. How do we fix a broken culture? By raising our expectations on its members. Why does my horse walk next to me calmly and politely when other horses at the farm don’t? Because she knows she is expected to.

Let’s use the horse example. I will always remember a conversation I had with Jasmine’s trainer when I was buying her. I was amazed and impressed at how clean and backingeasy she backed up in her sale video. I told him this and he looked at me and laughed. Once he finished laughing at me (I now know the laugh really meant “oh you have so much to learn” and I had earned that) he explained to me that her back was so good because she knew it wasn’t optional. She knew what was expected of her. That when he faced her and made even the smallest motion forward she was expected to already be moving backwards. She also knew that if she wasn’t meeting that expectation there would be consequences. In the case of teaching a horse to back that often means repeatedly backing them up over and over again. Horses learn when we “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard”. They are somewhat lazy and like to do as little as possible. So something that results in extra work is avoided. They quickly piece together “if I do what is expected of me I get done faster”. The same works with humans, we just forget to use that method most of the time.

So how do we set expectation? Expectation setting is a two way street. Expectations not only drive our own behavior, but also that of the people around us. There are four steps to setting an expectation.

  1. Define the expectation. This may be done just by one of the parties involved (I define what I expect of my horse) or it may be the result of a conversation or meeting (goal setting between an employee and their supervisor). The expectation should be clear, measurable and have a time frame. SMART goals work really well here.
  2. Teach to the expectation. This is where the person driving the expectation is most impacted and most critical. A parent who never expects their child to do laundry may never teach them how to sort clothes or use the washer. This step is often skipped and that always amazes me. How can we expect an outcome if we haven’t provided the information to reach it?
  3. Provide settings and opportunities for the expectation to occur and be reinforced. If I want my horse to walk right beside me on a loose lead I need to walk with her regularly. If she “forgets” the expectation I have to reinforce the training. It is also important not to sabotage the opportunities. What I mean by this is you need to fight that urge to do it instead. A parent who has told their child they are now expected to do their own laundry and every time the hamper is full steps in and does the wash is sending mixed signals and teaching that the expectation is not firm. Positive reinforcement is just as important. When Jasmine walks politely next to me, stops when I stop and meets my expectations I reward her. I put less pressure on her.
  4. Have a proactive plan for managing when the expectation isn’t met. This goes along with number 3 but is critical on its own. The key is proactivity. Waiting until the expectation isn’t met to know how to solve the problem is why so many people give up on trying to change another person’s behavior. When things are falling apart it is too late to figure out what to do. This is why the safety speech is given before the plane takes off and not when a crisis is happening. You need your plan already in your brain.

In processing all of this I realized why I found so much discomfort in the word “assertive”. Being assertive is a one way street. It puts all the responsibility, both for success and failure” on one side of the equation. Expectation however is a two sided contract. Both parties have a stake in the outcome, both parties have a role to play and both parties can be molded to the end goal.

Maybe I am starry eyed optimistic (ok any who knows me knows I’m not but go with that thought) but I believe that people and animals rise to the expectations set for them. As human beings it is our job to make sure the bar is kept high enough to keep each other reaching but never so high that it is unobtainable!

But Why………………


We are born, we learn to talk and we start asking ‘Why’. It is how we are wired. Spend much time around a three year old and count the number of times you are asked why. As adults we find it annoying, but what we are missing is that the human brain wants to understand. It is how we make choices and how we calibrate our world. Understanding the why, whether you are five or fifty-five, gives us comfort and motivation. Yet for some reason when we work with adults we perpetually skip over the why and frankly we pay the price.

Too often we perceive people as difficult, change phobic or disagreeable who really don’t get the why in what we are asking. Is that their fault for not stopping and asking? Is that our fault for not explaining the why first? Yes and Yes. I get it, I am guilty of it myself, the world is fast paced and we barely have time to communicate what we have to, so we jump to the how, but I am realizing more and more that this is the longer slower approach to everything. I see it all around me.

I am finishing up another class for my Master’s this week, Business Analytics. I have 8-weeks-whyfrankly found the class completely frustrating, despite it being an incredibly important topic and having a teacher who goes above and beyond. As I was writing my class evaluation, I realized why it has been so hard. The class is all about the ‘how’. We have done 16 weeks of exercises learning statistical tools, Excel functions and analytics software but I am coming out of the class feeling like I didn’t get what I should have out of the class. What I was looking for was a class that taught me why first and then how. I wanted to understand the needs of a business leader, what their goals were and what the challenges were and then find tools to solve them. Instead I learned a lot of solutions and was given examples to help me hunt for problems to solve with them. I doubt I will use half of the valuable material I learned because when I am in those situations my brain has not been shown use x when y occurs. I just know how to do x.

I sat in a meeting last week and we were debating a change in a travel billing policy. We started with the solution we each thought was appropriate. The conversation made me want to scream (actually I think I sort of did at one point). I couldn’t place the problem at the time, I get it now. We never started with why. We never started with a shared goal of what we were trying to fix and as a result part of the room was trying to solve one problem and the other a different problem, and frankly I am not sure looking back either got solved. Had we started with why, in this case what is the problem we are working on solving, I believe we would have agreed on the direction to go and reduced frustration greatly.

I had a conversation with a friend this week on Obama’s Affordable Care Act and why so many see it as a failure. It hit me last night, we aren’t all working towards the same goal. I think for the President the primary goal was get everyone in the country covered, regardless of the cost. I think for the American public the goal was to reduce healthcare and insurance costs. We are having a national discussion without even really knowing what we are talking about and as a result are talking over each other and failing on both

Even at Jasmine’s barn I see it all the time. A policy (the how) is stated or shared or implied and there is limited compliance and then frustration. The change is perceived as poor customer service or just being difficult but the reality is we have an amazing set of owners and barn crew, the best out there in my opinion, and we have caring boarders who want to help out. But without that extra step of explaining why the actions have no grounding and just seem limiting. When why is given the majority jump on board.

Why does many things, it:

  1. Ensures we are all working towards the same goal. Too often we assume others see a problem like we do or have the same mission we do and that isn’t the case
  2. It gives context for an upcoming solution, particularly to those who may be new to the situation or to whom part of the situation is invisible
  3. It gives merit to needing to change and the extra work that might be required
  4. It provides the comfort of knowledge that many need to accept change
  5. It raises the priority of a behavior or change. When a person can ground themselves in the reason they are doing something it becomes much more important to them
  6. Explaining the why, of a change or rule, makes the decision seem much more thought out and thought through. It erases the notion that this is just a wild, off the cuff solution or an emotional reaction.


It is time to talk about why! Every conversation should start and end with the why. The how is the measly details in the middle!

I really don’t care that you are hungry or thirsty…..


There are many things I admire about horses and wish most humans could do more of, but how they define right and wrong is not one of them. Horse dynamics, particularly herd dynamics, is all about pecking order. The alpha horse determines for the rest of the herd what is right and wrong. The alpha decides who eats, who drinks, where they walk, who stands next to whom. Right and wrong is completely defined by one beings worldview. Sometimes the alpha will allow another horse to co-lead with them, but even that decision is up the discretion of the alpha and can be revoked at any time. When another horse disagrees with the community standards the only way to have a say is to challenge the alpha for that position or to try hard enough that the alpha changes their opinion, but at the end of the day whoever is alpha is calling the shots. It is an arrangement that stresses me out greatly. Jasmine is currently the co-alpha of her new herd and I feel like the parent who every day gets a bad report on their child. My child is in my mind the bully. She won’t let those below her eat or drink, she runs them off. And as a horseman I know this is all normal and there is little we can do about it, but as a human this goes against everything I believe in. It was just as much a struggle for me when Jas allowed herself in her last herd to give up being the alpha (I swear with that group she just decided it wasn’t worth the stupidity level of being their boss). But then I had to worry about who was hurting her, was she getting enough to eat.

This is a time of year where the concept of right and wrong and who defines it is always on my mind. Being Jewish this is a time of year where differences are very obvious to me. Those that believe that Christmas should be the right holiday and want public displays and Christmas parties at public venues want to have the alpha spot in the pecking order. We all battle over what is the appropriate holiday greeting is (I’m a fan of Happy Holidays because I think it is more respectful of everyone). I always find myself questioning why any of us think our religion is more right than anyone else’s. Why we can’t just get to a place where we all see the world as “this is right for me but I have no reason to choose right for anyone else”.

That question is even stronger on my mind this year because of the recent election and conversations I have had based on the outcome. There are people in my life who strongly believe the outcome was wrong. They are angry, bitter, sad because the country didn’t see things their way. The same is going on on college campuses, schools and many other places. And it is the first time I remember hearing it stated so blatantly that the way the election went was wrong. I remember in the past hearing people weren’t happy with the outcome, but I have never heard such strong judgement on those who voted differently. And I have to admit I don’t get it. I don’t understand the notion that America can be held to anyone’s single view, that isn’t how our herd works. It isn’t how it should work either. Yet for some reason we have moved more and more to that place on everything. Whether you discuss elections, religion, abortion, marriage rights, home schooling or a million other topics, the conversation has become more judgmental in the last decade. We have moved from being able to disagree to wanting to force our will on others and that scares me.drink

I was in a serious change management meeting last week. The goal was to revisit many core policies of a company that has recently changed leadership and is re-examining itself for the first time in about 15 years. In that time the size of the firm, the primary services provided, the tenure of employees and clients has all changed. The model needs to be very different for the future to be successful. Understandably there were some very passionate, and momentarily heated, discussions as topics that mattered to each participant were broached. I was struck by one very specific moment however. A change in documentation was being discussed and one participant was campaigning strongly against the change and he described something as the right way to do that. The whole room reflexively paused at once, although I may have been the only one to notice it because I spent the duration of the meeting watching change issues. The speaker was then called out by another participant and reminded that he doesn’t get to define right for everyone. That he gets his opinion but not the authority to determine right for the rest of the company. I felt like it was a changing point in that topic’s conversation. I watched the speaker process his own behavior for a moment and begin to open up to other possibilities on the topic.

It made me think about the following question. How often does our view that we are right hold us back from change and growth? Can the question “Why don’t I like change?” really be replaced with “Why am I not willing to consider that my right might not be the best right for everyone?”? And is the extension of that recognizing that when only one answer can exist for a group (versus a situation where we can all do it our preferred while) while we might not like a certain change is holding on to our right, for our own sake, harming other people in the long run?

I have always considered myself pro-choice on most topics, a view I now know as libertarian. I may not agree with someone else’s choice and would not do it the same way as them, but I would fight for their right to choose for themselves. I definitely don’t think my way works for everyone or that it even should. But I think what I learned this week is when that isn’t an option, in a situation where only one collective outcome is possible, I have room to grow. I know who I want to be and believe I should be, but I am not always sure I am enough that person. I think I found one of my change resolutions for 2017.