Expecting, Inspecting, and Respecting

Thoughts from my recent sabbatical


Here is my twist on an oft quoted business or management adage. “It is not expecting, but inspecting while respecting.” I first heard it from Dr. Elmer Towns nearly 25 years ago in a seminar on Sunday School Growth. And it has been the substance of my 6 week sabbatical from LeadershipVoices.com.

“You can expect what you inspect” has been credited by Wikipedia to author W. Edwards Deming, but there’s no evidence that he first coined or popularized the saying. Likewise, Lawrence Appley, president of the American Management Association from 1948 to 1968, was credited with the saying as far back as 1967.

Other variations include, “People do what you inspect not what you expect” and it has been cited in print since 1959. Also, “you get what you inspect, not what you expect” shows up since 1962. The adage is sometimes said to have a military origin, but documented citations are not conclusive.  And, “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect” was written by W. Clement Stone in his book, The Success System That Never Fails and published in 1962.

So, enough of the history lesson. What is my point?

Human nature seems to be that we avoid doing something unless we have to. This is one of the key reasons that we often miss opportunities — we don’t have to take them.  But they would certainly be in our best interest if we would.

One of the things that as leaders we have to do is to regularly examine our actions and our outcomes. Today’s culture wants to measure based upon intent or level of effort. But, real effective leaders demand results of themselves and of their followers.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

Expecting — We all come to any given situation with certain expectations. These expectations are rooted in our experiences. They have taught us that if X and Y are happening. Then Z will probably happen as well. Unfortunately our expectations may not be grounded in reality. Or maybe the reality has changed and the expectations that were reasonable yesterday, last week, last month, or last year are no longer reasonable. Maybe our expectations are just unrealistic. Or maybe, our expectations will not come to reality because we have not invested ourselves in examining the process whereby they will become reality. And that involves our second aspect – inspecting.

Inspecting — This is the part that many do not see the value and importance for success. One of the key roles that a leader must fulfill is that of “Inspector”. Leaders must constantly be evaluating and analyzing the progress of the organization against the stated mission, goals, and objectives. If we go back to an understanding of human nature we will see that folks tend to be more diligent when they know that someone is watching. People tend to report more accurate data if they know that it will be verified and cross-checked. But all of this sounds a little draconian, doesn’t it? Well, maybe it is without our final aspect – respecting.

Respecting — This may be the hardest aspect of the trilogy. Many leaders are great at setting and managing expectations. Fewer are great at the analytical aspects that drive change and continuous improvement. But even fewer have the softer skills to engage in the inspecting process with kindness, gentleness, and tact. A real leader must develop the ability to communicate without damaging the follower the things that they expect or observe through the inspection process.

A final thought — This process has been in the forefront of my thinking for the last 6 weeks as I have taken a sabbatical from LeadershipVoices. Have been doing a lot of “inspecting” of my work and the work of those who share my passion for leadership.  There are changes coming to LeadershipVoices. And I hope that you will continue to be a part of the community that we have developed over the last 3 years.

It is good to be back!

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

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