Want to be the Boss? You Need to Set Expectations

Steve Schnaudt

January 22, 2024

I firmly believe that you can't hold someone to a standard if they don't know the standard. Seems simple, right? You'd be surprised at how often employees are left in the dark about what their boss and their organization expect from them.

In a formal leadership position, you must make your expectations known on day one. Employees are not clairvoyant. They need guidance and direction. On your first day with a new team, sit down with all of your personnel. You will also need to do this whenever you get a new recruit or someone who transfers from another shift or company. These meetings should always involve the entire team, not just new members. Print out your expectations and hand everyone a hard copy. Review the expectations and answer questions. Have an open, honest discussion. If your organization has a formal mission and vision statement, make sure every staff member understands that in the absence of a direct order or formal policy that their actions should be guided by the organizational core values.

Leaders and managers, you must communicate both your personal and the organization's philosophies and expectations. Provide your personnel with guidance. Once you've presented your expectations, you now must ensure that you are patient and nurturing while also taking ownership by living up to the very standards that you are expecting of everyone else.

Your expectations must be realistic. As the leader, you must be consistent, fair, and, most importantly, visible. Get out of the office! Be an active participant in the expectations that you have set.

Provide immediate feedback. If someone isn't meeting your or your organization's standard, then counsel them. Train them.

Remediate. Counsel. Train. Educate. Assign a mentor.

Then train some more.

The team's success depends on everyone reading off the same sheet of music.

But, what do you do when someone simply can not (or in some cases WILL NOT) adhere to the standards and expectations that you or your organization has set? You've attempted counseling and remediation. You've trained and provided mentorship. You've taken all the informal steps necessary to bring the aberrant crew member on board, and your efforts are just falling short.

In the end, some just won't get it. Some will flatly refuse to conform, maybe out of spite. There are problem employees who have worked their entire career for someone in a formal leadership position that never enforced organizational policies and core values. Many of us know "that" employee whose bad habits and poor work ethic have proved hopelessly difficult obstacles for almost every manager they've ever worked for.

If your back is against the wall, you may have no choice but to initiate the formal discipline process. This should be a last resort. Nobody likes to do this. Confronting problem employees is uncomfortable. But, if you are the boss, you better get comfortable being uncomfortable.

During my time as a fire department company officer, I was blessed to have crews of hard-working, professional, dedicated, and competent firefighters who loved the job. They were enthusiastic about training. They were committed to their oath. They were devoted to serving others. They all understood and embraced the expectations and standards set because they knew on day one that it wasn't just words. I lived it. We lived it. Team success doesn't happen by accident. If you are in the formal leadership role, you need to steer the ship.

Looking back on my fire service career, starting in my early volunteer days, I can truthfully say that the officers who consistently made their expectations known up front were the ones who were able to get the most out of me. They set the standard, and then they lived it. The leaders who not only talked the talk but also walked the walk left the most lasting positive impression.

Steven Schnaudt is retired Captain with the Robbinsville Township Fire Department in New Jersey. He is a Nationally Registered paramedic and a Level 2 fire instructor with over 30 years in fire and EMS. He has been published in both Fire Engineering Magazine and 1st Responder Newspaper and is almost always available on Twitter at @FireMedic40NJ.