How to Start Expecting Results

Aisha got her first email address when she enrolled at a brand new university in Uganda in the fall of 2012.

An outside observer could be forgiven for not expecting much from her incoming first-year class. Many came from villages that lacked electricity and running water. Over half of them had never seen a computer before. But by the end of the first six weeks, they were downloading digital textbooks, posting their homework via email, and figuring out how to use their Kindle e-readers to store and play mp3 music files. The more we expected of these eager students, the more they rose to perform.

Aisha’s first questions weren’t about technology, though. She wanted to know if we had a football (soccer) team.

From her first admissions interview, Aisha displayed a passion for sports. It wasn’t long before she demonstrated her leadership abilities by collaborating with other students to form a football club. Before she graduated, the LivingStone International University team was competing with local colleges and had started winning matches.

She had plenty of reasons to think small, but Aisha is a fierce competitor. She powered through the male-dominated world of sports to become a radio sportscaster in the third largest urban area of Uganda. Then she moved to Baba FM and Baba TV as a sportscaster in the second largest urban area. The largest independent newspaper in Uganda interviewed her after she was recognized as the Best Female Sports Personality in Eastern Uganda. One of her Facebook posts illustrates her aim: “Hustling until my idols become my competitors.”

Mastering the Gravity of your Stuck-Story

The connection between effective leadership and Aisha’s experience revolves around how you respond to the gravity of your “Stuck-Story.” A stuck-story is a rational-sounding explanation of all the reasons why you can’t do something. The reason it sounds so rational is because it is protecting you from the threat of expecting something and then being disappointed.

The gravity of your Stuck-Story does not care if you are an affluent American or a rural African. I used to hear stuck-stories in Uganda every week. And I have listened to executives use the same logic to explain all the reasons why they can’t change something in their business. A stuck-story has gravity because it pulls your expectations downward.

How to Recognize a Stuck-Story

You can tell your explanation is a stuck-story if all the factors in the story are described as being outside your control: competition or scarcity in the talent pool, changing markets, other people’s reactions, limitations of technology, etc. Because these factors are outside your control, they justify your decision to expect less from yourself or your company.

Your stuck-story will often display elements of scarcity thinking. You can recognize you are under the influence of a stuck-story when you find yourself underpricing your work, excessively over-delivering, and being unprepared for success. I regularly hear from executives who are struggling with success because they had not developed a solid pipeline of leaders to handle the (unexpected) growth.

How to Break Out of your Stuck-Story

How do you change your thinking to expect positive results?

1) First of all, recognize that your stuck-story exists because it is serving a purpose—it is protecting you from potential disappointment or embarrassment. It is also protecting a self-image that you may have developed in response to a past failure or crisis. Crisis twists our perspective and teaches us to expect the worst—we avoid the pain of future failure at the price of present mediocrity.

2) In order to break out of the stuck-story, you have to break the old self-image (or company image) and build a new one. The new image must embrace the value you and your company bring to the world. During a long season when I was wrestling with my own stuck-story, a proverb kept coming to mind, "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before officials of low rank." It was a message for me to see the true value that my work brought to others and change my expectations about my business.

3) Finally, begin making decisions based on the new self/company-image. Decisions made in scarcity produce scarcity. Decisions based on an expectation of abundance will generate abundance. This is not magical thinking—it is a deliberate orientation of your thoughts toward possibilities instead of limitations. One practical way that this new thinking produces different results is that you keep looking for solutions even after you encounter several obstacles.

The Second Pillar in the Bridge to Excellence

Positive Results are the expected outcomes of purposeful effort. In our company, Expecting Results is the second pillar of our own bridge to excellence, one of our three core values (embracing risk and pursuing relationships are the others). We don’t believe leadership success is possible without it. To us,

Expecting results means we resist negativity and small-mindedness, actively looking for the best in people and situations. We expect positive results to follow from our actions, and we clear away obstacles to see further and achieve higher goals.

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