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Having an ‘Expectations Conversation’ With Your Boss Sets The Whole Company Up for Success

When we’re starting out in our careers, we want to make a name for ourselves. We take on all the projects and late-night hours in the hopes of making a good impression and advancing through the company. This mindset might feel positive in the moment, but you are setting yourself up for a reputation that will do anything but help you. Melissa Peak walks through how to have an “expectations conversation” with your boss, which will help you stay focused and be a more productive part of your team and company.

You can listen to this entire conversation with Melissa on our podcast, Work, Love, Pray! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.

How can someone walk out from under unrealistic expectations and find a new and healthier path without feeling weak or that they’ve failed? 

Consider the people you would view as most successful. I think of a friend who’s had an amazing career as an attorney, she’s been on six corporate boards, and she was CEO a couple of times. Just an amazing woman, and she’s just been a dear friend to me for probably a decade. How has she done all of this? She has told me that it’s a constant job of not trying to be all things to all people. 

If our mental model is, “I am only valuable because of my productivity,” we are always going to be stuck in the rat race of being a doer. To be honest, this is what differentiates individual contributors and middle management from executives. Not everyone wants to make the shift to the executive level, but that shift is achieved by getting things done through others in addition to having big thinking. Executives are very good at setting a vision and very good at getting things done through others. Getting things done through others is a lot of work, but the executive’s impact is greater because they’re not limited by what they themselves can produce. 

Executives make a required shift in their skill development, but they also make a shift from being an individual producer to creating an environment around them where more is getting done at a high-quality level. If I was mentoring someone who felt like they aren’t valuable at work if they’re not catching all the things, I would recommend a book called Rise by Patty Azzarello. She comments that if you build a brand for yourself of being “the doer,” it’s going be really hard for you to ever pivot out of that position. You have to take some intentional steps if you ever want to elevate, but you have to tell yourself that you’re not going to be able to elevate past the point of your own thinking about yourself. 

We have to switch our thinking and recognize that “productive” and “valuable” don’t equal doing all the things. “Productive” is really about choosing the critical few things that are going to create the biggest impact and focusing time and attention there. Once you’ve identified those critical few things for productivity, tell your boss about them. Say, “I’ve been doing some analysis and there’s two or three things are the biggest areas where if I put time and energy, it’s going to bring the best result for the business. Do you agree?”

Again, it’s a negotiation conversation and calibration with your boss. If other tasks or projects come up, then you can go back and say, “Okay, I am more than happy to take on this piece of work, but we talked about those three priorities that were the greatest impact priorities for me. Which of those three would you like me to deprioritize to make time to do this other thing?” Having this conversation reminds your leader of the commitment and the conversation that has been had around the priorities, and it also creates a mutually accountable situation for decision-making, and prioritizing and reprioritizing. Remember, you’re negotiating to keep your list at a size where you can have high impact in areas where you have negotiated together with the leaders around you. 

What is the worst expectation you’ve had placed on you, and how did you handle it? 

I actually actively resist expectations being placed on me, to be honest. Any expectations that are placed on me, I don’t internalize them. I’ve learned to set boundaries very quickly! I think, as women, we go into a situation and the expectation is that we’re going to pick up the administrative tasks. I’ll very quickly nip that in the bud and, and say, “Okay, we’re going to rotate responsibilities for note taking. Who’s going to take this week?” 

I think the worst or most damning expectations I’ve endured have been expectations I’ve placed on myself. Usually, that expectation is that I’m going to get it right every time and there’s no tolerance for less than perfect. I often feel like I always have to be the one to pull the rabbit out of the hat, that other people’s happiness is my responsibility, or that my team’s motivation at work is my responsibility. Yes, I can have influence in those areas, but I’m not God. I can’t and shouldn’t put expectations on myself for things that only God is able to do, or take on something that somebody else needs to work through for themselves. When I set these expectations for myself, I’m putting myself in a position where I’m inflating my sense of significance in other people’s lives, which isn’t healthy or right.

So I’ve gotten really good at defining what’s in my sphere of control and what’s not in my sphere of control, and placing my time and energy on things that are in my sphere of control. Being encouraging sometimes means being encouraging to myself, too, because I’m often really great to other people and not so great to myself. If this sounds like you, I will say that it’s really good to have people around us who will point out, “You wouldn’t say that to me. Why are you saying that to yourself?” Seek out those types of people if you struggle with handling poor expectations well!

Melissa Peak, is a seasoned management executive with more than 2 decades of experience leading organizations to growth and customer success, while building an engaged workforce. Leveraging her transformational leadership style, Melissa has repeatedly built thriving teams that deliver unprecedented market penetration, customer satisfaction, and revenue results. Career highlights include delivering double-digit, top-line revenue growth; placing a Fortune 500 company on the Federal GSA Schedule; 40% of direct reports promoted into expanded roles; creation and execution of a strategic digital marketing campaign resulting in a 400% increase in social media engagement after one year.

Melissa has led business operations with teams exceeding 200 people, and managed P&L responsibility exceeding $150MM. Over her career, Melissa has engaged with hundreds of employers as a trusted advisor on key talent strategies. By delivering powerful results for these employers, Melissa has built strong relationships with a large network of CEO, CIO, CTO, COO, CHRO, Diversity and Learning Colleagues across North America, with International impact.

As a first-generation college student, Melissa is a determined advocate for those who are taking a “road less traveled.” Whether it is hosting a conference, roundtable, one on one coaching or serving as a connector for the determine, yet un-equipped, Melissa has opened doors of opportunity for thousands of individuals. Melissa is proud to have been named a “2020 Top Woman to Watch” by Diversity Journal Magazine. She serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Women Business Collaborative, and an Advisory Board member for Working Nation.

Melissa resides in Goshen, KY with her husband Michael and their five children. She earned her Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan’s School of Business, an MBA from the John Sperling School of Business at University of Phoenix, and a Bachelor of Science in Literature from Indiana Wesleyan University.

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