Manage Expectations, Lead People

Manage Expectations, Lead People

Join Tom Brown, Executive Director of Semiconductor Business Unit at Brewer Science, as he shares inspirational leadership advice and professional growth stories


Employees want to be led and empowered without having to be managed as a resource to be “optimized” like a piece of production equipment. This sentiment is best expressed with the phrase “you should manage projects but lead people.”

Firmly upholding this philosophy, I am fortunate to work in a company that focuses on developing soft skills such as leading and relationships, as much as the hard skills of management execution. What has become apparent in my 29 years at Brewer Science is that the most successful managers have both skill sets.

Recently, I hosted a roundtable discussion on a myriad of leadership, management, and professional development topics. As people shared their unique challenges, it would typically come back to a manager not effectively engaging their employees by leading them. In contrast, when people shared success stories, it was evident their achievement lay in the responsibility of leading the personnel rather than managing them.

As the discussion continued, I challenged the participants to change the principle from “projects” to “expectations,” and that’s when we started to get to the heart of the matter. Whether it was about projects, strategic planning, sports teams, or family drama, it always seemed to come back to a mismatch of expectations. It’s not that people necessarily lack a skill or don’t know what is needed for a project to be successful. Still, it is either unclear expectations or unstated expectations that seem to cause conflicts or misalignment. People moving to the beat of their own drums were causing things to be out of rhythm.

If you can manage expectations effectively, you can still make progress, even if you struggle to lead people. If you don’t manage expectations but are an effective leader, you might be able to guide people down a path even though they are not sure why they are traveling the path. But in either scenario, it will take much more work to succeed.

From my experiences and discussions with others, I pulled together four of the most common reasons why leaders fail to manage expectations effectively:



Problem: At times, you may not clearly understand what needs to be done. Just because a person is in a management role doesn’t mean they have all the answers. To avoid looking underqualified, you set a goal or a metric on something you understand.

Solution: Revisit the Second Pillar of Impact: Expect Excellence to understand how setting expectations is foundational to creating a shared vision.




Problem: You may see things through your lens and not grasp the bigger picture because you view things from only your perspective. The expectations you describe fit into your view of performance and definition of success, but it misses the mark on the direction the company is traveling.

Solution: Understand the company’s mission and how your expectations fit into the key performance framework of the company. Ask yourself if your intentions align with the company’s continuous growth and your employees’ continuous development.



Problem: You are guilty of avoiding conflict if you do not want to rock the boat or don’t feel the team will receive the expectation well. It may be a lack of confidence or fear of political backlash. But either way, you find it easier, and possibly safer, to avoid and instead choose to set lesser expectations.

Solution: You must find the Courage to Challenge and speak up for what you feel is in the company’s best interest. Unfortunately, we learned from events like the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster of 1986 that avoiding conflict does not make things easier or safer. It can be the exact opposite when not addressed appropriately and timely.



Problem: Many times, when people feel a push to change expectations, they move into a defensive posture and try to protect their position and deflect what they perceive as an attack on them. By changing expectations, they feel that what they have been doing is wrong and reflects poorly on them as a leader. They reinforce their silo instead of viewing this as an opportunity to pivot and move forward.

Solution: As a leader, you must manage the expectations of your team and their relationship outside of your immediate organization. Clear expectations that can be supported and executed will help your team feel engaged and empowered. Managing expectations in this way will help you lead people beyond today.


The best way to lead people is to manage expectations. You can achieve an exceptionally functioning team when everyone has the same mission of sharing in the company’s success through continuous growth and development. By recognizing the four most common reasons managers fail to manage expectations effectively, you can be cautious and intentionally seek solutions to problems you face when leading a team.


Brewer Science is a company that believes deeply in sustaining long-term success through value-based culture, diversity, and growth. Learn more about Brewer Science’s company culture.

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