How do you motivate and influence the people in your school? 

Expectations are shared by a leader to her staff — Here is what I expect you to do (by this date) … And this is what a quality job looks like … 

Agreements are co-created with stakeholders to define what needs to happen by when. Often, how the work is done isn’t necessarily defined, but it could be. 

(Shout out to Steve Chandler who taught me the power of agreements)

What are more powerful expectations or agreements?

My answer — Agreements are for more powerful than expectations. Hands down.

Here’s why …

Expectations are:

  • Toxic
  • Ruin chances at a good relationship
  • See everything as a problem (job performance, quality standards, etc.)
  • Stressful
  • Ridden with anxiety
  • Reactive
  • Fear-based
  • Cowardly

In my experience, people resent expectations. That’s because they are often unrealistic and out-of-touch. 

Is there anything worse than an out-of-touch, unrelatable leader?

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My working theory of leadership is that leadership is service. That’s impossible to accomplish if you’re out-of-touch.

Think back for a minute to a boss that really drove you nuts.

Would you say she understood you and the context of your work? 

When I was a teacher, if I had a principal who needed “X” task completed in  an unreasonable timeline or she just expected something I could never deliver, no amount of expectations would change:

  • My effort or
  • My ability to deliver
  • And worse yet, I lost more respect for that leader (if I had any left).

Don’t let that be you.

Think about it … have you ever heard (or worse) said any of these phrases:

If it wasn’t for my staff, we could just be able to do _________.

______ task needs to be done by [unreasonable time] or else …

They should know how to do _____ I sent them an email.

I don’t want to hold their hand, they are a “professional.”

The problem with expectations and these kinds of phrases — they set you up for failure. Expectations are a path to disappointment, or at best, a neutral experience.

Consider this …

If your staff doesn’t meet your expectations, then how will you feel?


If your staff does meet your expectations, how will you feel?


“Well Danny, they’re just doing what I expected.”

People do not look forward to meeting your expectations. In fact, they rebel against them.

The solution is agreements (aka the best way to motivate and lead). People love to keep co-authored agreements. They are much more powerful.

Agreements are:

  • Co-authored
  • Creative
  • Courageous
  • Motivating
  • Win-Win
  • Generous
  • Momentous
  • Culture Building
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Think of this scenario in a fictitious school …

Principal: We need to cut the absence rate of seniors by 30% by the end of the month.

AP: Well … I can’t promise that by the end of the month.

Principal: What do you mean?

AP: Well, we have no interventions set up, no budget for incentives or bus passes, and to be honest … we don’t have a compelling reason for seniors to get to school. I think if we could offer some PD to our staff regarding PBIS and create some type of challenge with prizes for the seniors that improve their attendance the most … then I think we could make a significant dent in our attendance problem. But I’ll need some time to plan, time with teachers, and a budget for incentives/prizes. If I had that we could improve attendance in thirty days. If not, I don’t see us moving the needle much at all.

Principal: Hmm … let me think … I can give you next Wednesday with the entire staff to discuss PBIS and to develop a compelling project that would excite seniors and drive engagement. I’ll also give you $1,000 to get prizes to provide seniors as incentives. If I do that, can you agree to improve our attendance by the end of the month?

AP: I believe I could deliver on that.

Principal: Great. Let’s get started. Let me know if you need anything else from me or if you anticipate any problems with this project.

So if agreements are stronger than expectations, why then do most leaders walk around with only expectations?

Here’s the challenge …

Sit down with your staff next week. Ask them what they really need to get the job done. Allow them to ask questions and ask for the help they need to deliver on their word.

Remember … people love to keep agreements they helped create.

As a bonus, you get to find out in advance why certain things (including problems) occur and how to navigate through them before they even happen.

Imagine if you could predict why a plan might fail and address it before it even happens. That’s another advantage of agreements you just won’t get from expectations.

If you accept this challenge, get ready for something magical to happen within your organization. You also get to experience the freedom of leading without the resentment of staff not living up to your expectations.

Be brave. Be courageous.

Be creative and do the hard work of negotiating agreements with your people. Yes, I guarantee it’s harder than walking around with a bunch of “high” expectations. But I also guarantee you’ll go a lot further. Not in the short term, but in the long term. And that’s okay. Education isn’t a sprint, is it? 

It’s a marathon.

You can choose right now — do you want a life of disappointment (or at best a neutral, “they-met-my-expectations” experience? Or would you like the magic, wonder, and results that you will drive when you play in the realm of courageous agreements?

If you are looking for more tips on being an effective school leader, check out this post with 200 tips!

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