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Living Up (or Down) to Expectations

When I was about fourteen, my mother told me that smoking would make me look cheap! Well, hello! Bring it on! Boys will think you are “easy,” said Mom. That was the point! I ratted my hair up very high, wore white lipstick (what were we thinking!) and had black raccoon circles smudged around my eyes! This was a really great look with the Newport Menthol cigarette propped in my mouth.

I also made out with greasy-haired boys and played rock and roll music loud all the time! By the time my mom started liking Elvis herself, I had moved on of course! When I was a teen, my mother expected me to be trouble, so of course I was.

Many years later, I came to the stunning realization that I look smarter than I really am. Whenever potential employers interviewed me, I always knew just when to nod, when to give them a slightly quizzical look, and when to laugh. They usually figured that I was a pretty smart cookie. (Little did they know that I simply mimicked and shadowed what they were doing with their facial expressions.) Still, I really didn’t disappoint. I would learn whatever it was that I was supposed to know pretty fast (since they had assumed I already knew it.) I really don’t like disappointing people who believe in me.

When people treat you like you are smart and when they expect you to be smart, you are more likely to do what is expected of you. For example, I hired a woman many years ago over the protests of my boss (the company President) because she was not really qualified for the job. She was the sister of one of our janitors and she was trying to find some kind of work because she and her husband were recent immigrants and needed the money.

I treated this new-hire like a professional and I guided and encouraged her. I even helped her to choose clothing that was appropriate for the office. The woman completely blossomed under this kind of guidance. One of her major drawbacks had been that she was a native Spanish speaker and her English needed work.

I suggested to the President of the Company that he pay for her English classes at the local college. Not only did she greatly improve her English language skills, she went on to complete college, going at night. She was one of the brightest and best people who ever worked for me. With very few exceptions, the people I mentored were successful. Over a span of twenty years, you can’t expect 100 percent, but I am certain that 80 percent is a very respectable percentage in this case.

On the other hand, I once worked for a man who treated me like I was an incompetent from the first day of work. Guess what happened? My confidence level plummeted and I grew less and less capable. I didn’t trust my own decisions, I felt unsure of my own capabilities, and I certainly began to live down to his expectations. I have had two or three experiences like that in my working life and they were miserable for me (and probably for my employer as well.) For whatever reason, I will live up to, or down to expectations as many of us will.

How much smarter it is to expect the best, and encourage employees so that they can contribute their best. It is one company philosophy that I would never overlook.