Last month while in New York on business, I visited a service for business leaders hosted by Hillsong Church. Speaking at this event was a leading therapist in New York City who specialized in anxiety disorders. I was all in to join this 7 a.m. gathering on a Wednesday morning. And I am glad I did, as I learned so much about my own leadership and one of our generation’s leading causes of anxiety: unrealistic expectations.
We all know that social media is capable of both good and bad. We battle the darkness of bullying, lack of connection and comparison to others. Conversely, social media has gifted us the opportunity to learn from one another, celebrate each other’s victories and shine light upon some of the world’s most desperate needs. Less talked about, however, is how this powerful tool swallows our time while spitting out massive expectations.
This is important because leaders tend to live with the tension of their visions exceeding their resources. Without the use of any distracting tools, I believe most leaders already live their lives in the chasm between their own expectations and reality, as well as the expectations and realities of others around them. It is important that you are comfortable with this space yourself first before you welcome others into it.
To remain healthy as leaders, we must protect the capacity that allows for vision to increase, rather than decrease. Capacity is the maximum amount that something can contain. Our culture’s unrealistic expectations can make us feel as if we are bursting at the seams. One of the most profound leadership realizations is to never let a lack of resources around you stop the power of the vision within you. A direct attack on our generation is to believe internally that we do not have enough or that we are not enough, while externally pretending that we have more than ever before.
What a shame it would be if everything that you worked for ended with you. As a leader, you are working hard to bring others into a place where they have never been. The beauty of that challenge requires a special capacity: the capacity to mute the world’s unrealistic expectations and tune into a frequency of realistic change.
These three thoughts have helped me to set healthy expectations for myself and of others:
1. Focus on who you are following.
Focusing on who you are surrounding yourself with will quickly determine where your expectations are to begin with. When observing the best leaders, you may notice that they follow other high-margin leaders. This is because we are biologically wired to mirror those around us. We have neurons in our brain called “mirror neurons” that fire when one person acts and when another observes that action. Scientifically, the concept that you are most like the people you are around is true. Feelings of joy, energy and creativity can be mirrored, just as stress, anxiety and worry can be. As a leader, this becomes most important when choosing those you will follow in order to build a team around you.
Voice your expectations: One of the most simple and helpful things you can do is to actually voice and then write down your expectations. Start with yourself, and then those around you. Write down three to five of the expectations you have for this week. Verbalizing even a few of the expectations you have will help reduce the anxiety around unrealistic expectations that go untold.
2. You’re likely in the early stages of a marathon. Find your rhythms of rest.
Bridging together expectations and reality is exhausting mentally, physically and spiritually. And this is not a one-time process for leaders. Again, leaders live in the chasm of what is and what is going to be. The business card of a leader might as well read “wrestling vision to life” as the top job expectation. And what’s one thing we know about wrestlers? They rest. You must find a rhythm of rest to avoid burnout.
Consistently power down: The most successful business leaders in my life all share one thing in common: Sabbath. For one full day each week, phones are off, emails are not responded to and rest is celebrated. I do not think it’s a coincidence that each of these leaders who have kept a consistent rhythm of rest remain the most consistently successful. Expectations of life are a lot like running a marathon, requiring a pace and a rhythm. You will burn out if you wait until once a year to detox. Build into each of your weeks at least 12-24 hours of powering down.
3. Value every day as if it was your first and last.
In his brilliant 1997 letter, Jeff Bezos explained to his company that every day was to be treated like it’s “day one.” One principle that has helped me to set realistic expectations is to treat each day as if it is my very first and my very last. Upon waking up in the morning, I set a clock with the number of hours I have until I got to bed. This simple reminder confirms that each hour matters. This clock also helps me to remain focused on the present and the realistic expectations for my day, rather than the pressure of all that may happen tomorrow.
Focus on Today: Try setting a countdown clock with the hours of your day. Focus on the profound truth that you have today and you have this hour. The unrealistic expectations of others that cause us the most pressure and anxiety are almost always tied to another day and another hour. Let’s not forget about what we do have versus everything that we do not have.
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