Clear Expectations are a Leader Responsibility

[July 7, 2019] I’ll soon be headed to Boy Scout camp with a number of 11-year old boys; who will be away from home for their first time. Anyone who has been around young boys (or girls) who are about to spend a week camping without their family, knows that it can be a daunting task. That is why clear expectations are a responsibility our adult leaders take seriously.

We spend time explaining standards of behavior and what to expect on their upcoming scout camp. This eases their concerns and also develops their own leadership skills by showing them what a good leader does to prepare their boys for a successful trip away from home. This is what we do. We do it well.

We also tell these young boys that they will have lots of fun. Fun is the motivator that pushes them to learn outdoor skills and stick to the grueling schedule we impose upon them. Furthermore, we are careful to let them know what a typical day is like at camp. The humidity and heat, bugs that bite and other animal critters, early to rise and early to bed, keeping their lean-tos clean and orderly; are just a few things they will experience for the first time.

Any leader worth their salt thinks about how they will explain proper behavior and any upcoming event. They also plan how to make the leap from concept (in the preparation) to reality (of task execution). This is where leadership is used to explain their vision of how things should be and how they will achieve it. Good communication is the key; something not easy to do even in the best of circumstances.

An old Vietnam-veteran Platoon Sergeant of mine gave me plenty of advice soon after I took over the Platoon as a Second Lieutenant. He said that clear expectations are a leader responsibility. Very little else will matter, he advised, if your soldiers don’t know what they will face when sent on a mission. Will it be dangerous? Will their lives be in jeopardy? Will it be a “cakewalk”?

Our young Boy Scouts were told what to pack (e.g., sleeping bag, bug spray, and swimming trunks) and what not to pack (e.g., electronics, snacks, and knives). Each item they bring or don’t bring is discussed. We explain why we don’t bring tasty snacks to the campsite (it attracts bugs and animals) and we talk to them about each item and the mistakes others have made when they ignored our warnings.

In the past, here at, I’ve written about setting expectations and its importance (see links here, here, and here). It bears repeating because of its importance and because leaders overlook this key component of real leadership.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Clear Expectations are a Leader Responsibility

  1. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Set your expectations. Set them high… not so high that they are impractical or unreachable but just high enough so your team has to stretch a bit to get there. Stretching is good; as long as it is handled with courage and grace.

    1. AutisticTechie

      Thanks Shawn. I totally agree with you. When you pass by a problem and don’t correct it, you have now created a new, lower expectation.

  2. Xerxes I

    You’ve heard it before; people will, most of the time, rise to a level of performance/behavior that is set for them.

  3. Ronny Fisher

    Here are 4 tips I always follow when trying to set expectations:
    1. Provide structure
    2. Clarify roles
    3. Set motivating goals
    4. Give feedback

    1. Joey Holmes

      Thank you Ronny. My dad tells me to say hello to all who come here to comment and that if I read what is written, that I might actually learn something.

  4. Wesley Brown

    The lack of clearly understood expectation is the source of much strife in relationships, the cause of most conflicts, and the beginning of poor organizational performance.

  5. Dale Paul Fox

    It is pretty difficult to build mutually clear expectations with others if you don’t know exactly what they are yourself. If you can’t clearly articulate them verbally or on paper, you aren’t ready for this conversation yet. And “I’ll know it when I see it” isn’t a clear expectation.

    1. Andrew Dooley

      I agree. Having clear expectations is good, giving others the context and intention for them will make them clearer and easier to follow.

  6. Nick Lighthouse

    Hello all. I hope everyone read this article. Someone once said that a good leader is the one who explains carefully what is expected of his followers. This is very close to the truth about expectations and thus we should all remember that this is what sets leaders apart from others.

  7. Eric Coda

    Loved your article this morning. Helped me fulfill my daily goal of reading about leadership and how to be a better person.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Me too. All the while drinking my early morning coffee and getting ready for the day.

      1. Joe the Aussie

        Well, it’s nearly 10pm in Sydney tonight and cool at about 60 F. Not everywhere is it morning. Cheers!

    2. Harry B. Donner

      I’m just cruising the Internet this weekend and getting a suntan. But, to use my time better, I’m reading Gen. Satterfield’s great blog.

  8. Greg Heyman

    This is an underrated skill for great leadership. People tend to see themselves relative to others. “Keeping up with the Jones’es” was a saying that epitomizes this idea. So, if you tell people what they will see and are likely to be doing, they have less stress and are better focused on their mission.

  9. Danny Burkholder

    On your upcoming trip to Summer Camp with your Boy Scouts, I would think you have to set the expectations that even an 11-year-old would understand. Good luck.

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