3 Little Secrets of Exceeding Expectations

This article explains about factors that lead to exceeding expectation in your activities (either personal or professional). This puts your life in a traffic free express way! After understanding the 3 little secrets for exceeding expectation & once you started implementing them then no one can stop your growth by any means!

cloud_catching.jpgWhatever be your level in your organization, every time when you hear the word “Exceed expectations” from your manager, do you think it is a kind of cloud catching exercise for you? This feeling will be there when you have confusion on what really needs to be done to exceed expectation.

Just by hearing the term “Exceeding Expectations”, you get the general meaning that “over and above what is expected”. Don’t go beyond this simplest & straight forward meaning. If you start thinking too much about the term, you end up in doing ‘tread mill’ i.e. running in the same place & not going anywhere.

First and foremost step for anyone to exceed the expectation is to know what is expected. Expectations changes from time to time based on performed activities & experience. Expectation level can go down or go up from time to time.

Expected behavior is the grey area which is mostly revealed only during performance review session. This makes the entire process of achieving exceed expectation harder.

When a manager sets expectations it is based on team member’s experience, skill and knowledge in overall work or in a particular task.

When manager decides goals, he documents and communicates only the expected outcome. The expected behavior is not explicitly discussed with team member. During performance review discussions, tug of war happens over the expected behavior as it is mostly subjective in nature.

Manager & team member need to analyze alignment of expectations with the high-level project goals.

Note: Though references in the below text talks about interactions between a team member and a manager, the term ‘expectation’ is applicable to all & not specific to one particular activity, hence you can apply these ideas to any activity. Also, degree of individuals’ skill varies from one person to another & this text doesn’t talk about how they can improve these skills as it is in an individual’s hand.

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Three main factors that decides ‘exceeding expectations’ for an employee (either it is a team member or manager) are – Proactive, Effective, Creating visibility. All three are interlinked as one helps the other and they share certain common elements.

Being proactive is the basic behavior expected on every assigned activity. In many ways you can exhibit this factor –

a) From childhood, we are trained in such a way that we simply wait for instructions. This is real enemy for exceeding expectation. Even you know how to do, if you wait for your manager to tell then it will not bring you up above the expectation level. You need to start performing activities without prompting or at least you can inform your manager that you are doing it.

b) You need to start assuming responsibility in the absence of someone (either manager or peer)

c) As Einstein said “one cannot solve the problems at the same level at which it was created”. You always need to understand the big picture which helps in identifying issues before hand.

d) You need to avoid mistakes either by following existing standards/processes set in the project or by creating your own standards/processes. This gives an excellent way to project you as a disciplined person.

e) Whenever you encounter with a problem, you should not stop at that point and stare at your manager with blank face. You need to move from problem oriented mindset to solution oriented mindset, in that way you can identify & provide possible solutions or workarounds for the situation.

Effectiveness is another important factor that makes you to exceed the set expectations. You can bring effectiveness mainly through practice & disciplined approaches. Here are few areas where effectiveness gives more weightage to expectations

a) In different decision-making scenarios – it can be a decision-making for general solution approach or a strategic decision-making or in an ambiguous/pressure situation. Usually work will be smooth and we encounter ambiguous or pressure situations once in a while, but behaviors shown in those situations has long-lasting effect in the organization history.

b) Effectiveness in activity management has greater value in deciding where you stand in the expectation scale. Following a procedural way in estimating time required, balancing personal & professional life, planning and organizing activities will bring you up in the scale.

c) Communication is integral part of whole expectation cycle from setting it till fulfillment. Effective communication happens when you understand things to be done in one (or few) round of explanation.

d) Others will look at you if you start implementing action items (sometimes it is corrective actions too) as many lacks the skill of following up the action items. In this way you can make yourself stand out in the crowd.

e) Self awareness – Though I mentioned it as last point, but this is having equal credit in securing high score in expectation levels. The one who understood his strengths and weaknesses can perform activities effectively. You help others in your strong areas & get help from others in the weak areas. In this way, you will complete the job within given timelines.

Creating visibility is the third factor for exceeding expectation.

a) Visibility creation is in your hands & it is not in the size of activity that you are performing. You can make everyone look at you the way you do it.

b) You can gain confidence of your higher officials by showcasing goodness in the work you performed & by the way you can also grab new opportunities with that.

c) Again, effective communication decides the level of visibility that you are creating. You need to use every given opportunity as visibility creation test & use your full potential in doing that.

d) Whenever you are included in a discussion or in performing an activity, everyone around you needs to feel value addition you make to that discussion/activity.

e) Having a relationship is not just enough; you need to have a positive relationship that enables you to influence people positively. With positive relationship, your acceptance will be widespread & people will help you without ego or grudge.

Situations to use Transactional Leadership in Team

Transactional leadership occurs when the leader rewards the team member, depending on the adequacy of the team member’s performance. Transactional leadership depends on contingent reinforcement, either positive contingent reward (CR) or the more negative active or passive forms of management-by-exception (MBE-A or MBE-P). [1]

Here are some situations I can think of.

* Use CR – when you found team member is motivated with some kind of reward & you can arrive a mutual agreement with your team member on reward he is getting after the work done is expected fashion.

* Use MBE-A – when you don’t want a mistake/error done by your team member propagates further that may jeopardize the project. You actively get the statuses, problems, challenges, develop processes, ensure adherence of project processes, conduct reviews, etc so that no error goes beyond certain time period. This really required when you manages a critical project & have time to do micro management. This is used when team member is having less experience in the work area. MBE-A may be required and effective in some situations, such as when safety is paramount in importance[2].

* Use MBE-P – when you don’t really care much about the errors or deviance as soon as it occurred. You have some time to correct them & they are not critical. This is followed when team member is having good experience in the area of working.
Leaders sometimes must practice passive MBE when required to supervise a large number of subordinates who report directly to the leaders[2]


1. Significant Behaviors of Transactional Leadership –https://leadershipchamps.wordpress.com/2008/09/19/significant-behaviors-of-transactional-leadership/
2. Transformational Leadership (Second Edition) BY Bernard M. Bass, Ronald E. Riggio, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.,2006

Q & A – Which one to Adopt Transactional or Transformational Leadership?

One college student asked me a Question – “Which between the two should be adopted. My lecturer says transactional leader is best 4 efficiency and effectiveness. How true is this?”

My Answer:

To best of my knowledge, I agree with the existence of both leadership styles in everyone. As we displayed & practiced transactional leadership for many decades – it was considered as the best approach, but there is no complete truth in that. One need to evaluate the situation and decide whether to go with Transactional or Transformational & should not stick on to one in all situations.

Your lecturer says so because he practiced transactional in many (appropriate) situations & found to be producing results. Also transactional is practiced by teachers a lot – “praise the student who gets high grade and punish the one who takes lesser. As they get good results from their class, they will get good name from principal”. They will understand the real taste of teaching if they start practicing Transformational.

Transactional Leadership Vs. Transformational Leadership

Number of Leadership theories evolved on the basis of Trait, Behavioral, Transformational, Situational, Charisma. Researchers and thinkers made efforts linking some of the theories across these leadership islands. But each model has its own pros, cons, assumptions & limitations. Latest researches are conducted on Situational & Transformational leadership styles. Leadership gurus presented new models as variations to the already existing models. Max Weber, MacGregor Burns, Bernard M.Bass, Warren Bennis & Nanus are few important researchers in the area of transformational leadership.

Understanding the difference between transactional and transformational leadership is vital in getting the whole concept of transformational leadership theory.Transformational Vs Transactional

As a starting point, let us review our everyday life. In general, a relationship between two people is based on the level of exchange they have. Exchange need not be money or material; it can be anything. The more exchange they have the more stronger the relation. Your manager expects more productivity from you in order to give good rewards. In this way, if something is done to anyone based on the return then that relation is called as ‘Transactional’ type. In politics, leaders announces benefits in their agenda in exchange to the vote from the citizens.  In business, leaders announces rewards in turn to the productivity. These relation is all about requirements, conditions and rewards (or punishment). Leaders who show these kind of relationship are called ‘Transactional Leaders’.

In life, at one point of time, things happen without expectation from other side. Say, mom’s dedicated service to her kid. Mom doesn’t expect anything from the child and the service she provides in raising the child is  unconditional, dedicated, committed. Mom plays a major role in shaping up the kid’s future life. This type of relation is called as ‘Transformational’. Leaders do exist in this world with these behaviors. Transformational Leaders work toward a common goal with followers; put followers in front and develop them; take followers’ to next level; inspire followers to transcend their own self-interests in achieving superior results.

Transactional Leader:

approaches followers with an eye to exchanging one thing for another … Burns

pursues a cost benefit, economic exchange to met subordinates current material and psychic needs in return for “contracted” services rendered by the subordinate …. Bass

Transformational Leader:

“recognizes and exploits an existing need or demand of a potential follower… (and) looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower” … Burns

The leader who recognizes the transactional needs in potential followers “but tends to go further, seeking to arouse and satisfy higher needs, to engage the full person of the follower … to a higher level of need according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” … Bass

 “Transformational Leader facilitates a redefinition of a people’s mission and vision, a renewal of their commitment and the restructuring of their systems for goal accomplishment. It is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents. Hence, transformational leadership must be grounded in moral foundations”….(Leithwood, as cited in Cashin et al., 2000, p.1)

As exactly said by Bass – “the transactional leaders work within the organizational culture as it exists; the transformational leader changes the organizational culture”.

Following table shows difference of transactional and transformation leadership[1].

Transactional Leadership Transformational Leadership
* Leaders are aware of the link between the effort and reward

* Leadership is responsive and its basic orientation is dealing with present issues

* Leaders rely on standard forms of inducement, reward, punishment and sanction to control followers

* Leaders motivate followers by setting goals and promising rewards for desired performance

* Leadership depends on the leader’s power to reinforce subordinates for their successful completion of the bargain.

* Leaders arouse emotions in their followers which motivates them to act beyond the framework of what may be described as exchange relations

* Leadership is proactive and forms new expectations in followers

* Leaders are distinguished by their capacity to inspire and provide individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation and idealized influence to their followers

* Leaders create learning opportunities for their followers and stimulate followers to solve problems

* Leaders possess good visioning, rhetorical and management skills, to develop strong emotional bonds with followers

* Leaders motivate followers to work for goals that go beyond self-interest.

Initial studies portrayed Transactional Leadership and Transformational Leadership as mutually exclusive, but Bass viewed the transactional & transformational leadership as continuum rather than opposites. The transformational leadership style is complementary to the transactional style and likely to be ineffective in the total absence of a transactional relationship between leaders and subordinates.

Based on detailed studies of various works in Transformational Leadership reveals following broader characteristics of Transformational Leader which includes (not limited to) [3], [4]

  •     Clear sense of purpose, expressed simply
  •     Value driven (e.g. have core values and congruent behavior)
  •     Strong role model
  •     High expectations
  •     Persistent
  •     Self-knowing
  •     Perpetual desire for learning
  •     Love work
  •     Life-long learners
  •     Identify themselves as change agents
  •     Enthusiastic
  •     Able to attract and inspire others
  •     Strategic
  •     Effective communicator
  •     Emotionally mature
  •     Courageous
  •     Risk-taking
  •     Risk-sharing
  •     Visionary
  •     Unwilling to believe in failure
  •     Sense of public need
  •     Considerate of the personal needs of employee
  •     Listens to all viewpoints to develop spirit of cooperation
  •     Mentoring
  •     Able to deal with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity


1. Comparison studies of different transformational authors – Bass, Cacioppe, Gronn, Hughes.et.al, Popper & Zakkai by Vanisha Balgobind in “The impact of Transformational Leadership on Subordinate Job satisfaction” dissertation work – June 2002.

2. Transformational Leadership by Colonel Mark A. Homrig, 21 Dec 2001. Retrieved from http://leadership.au.af.mil/documents/homrig.htm as on Aug 1st 2008.

3.Transformational Leadership: Characteristics and Criticisms by Iain Hay. Retrieved from http://www.leadingtoday.org/weleadinlearning/transformationalleadership.htm as on 1st Apr 2012.

4. Bass (1990a); Cox (2001); Epitropaki; Hall, Johnson, Wysocki & Kepner (2002); Lussier & Achua (2004); Stone, Russell & Patterson (2003); Tichy & Devanna (1986); and University of Regina.

My Other posts on Transactional & Transformational Leadership:

1. Is anything called transactional leadership exists?

2. What are the components of Transformational Leadership?