4 Good Ways to Deal with Missed Expectations

4 Good Ways to Deal with Missed Expectations

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Handling Missed Expectations

On a recent business trip to California, I rented a car. Sounds innocuous so far right? My plane landed at or close to midnight West Coast time. I boarded the bus to the rental car building, move quickly from the counter to the parking lot was directed to my car and that’s when my expectations went unmet.

I reserved a midsize car and received a Nissan Versa, possibly the smallest car I’ve ever been in. I could look past that. But this car, rented and received in 2019 came with manual windows and door locks!!! I know right?! What in the world?

I was nonplussed. When I asked for a different car with power doors and windows, I was told that would cost extra! Again, what in the world? Come on Payless Car Rental! I guess I should have read this first. This experience was inconvenient but how often as a leader do your expectations go unmet?

Too Tired To Care

It was midnight and I had an hour on the road before I could get to my hotel and was conducting a full-day class the next day so I let it slide. I expected to receive a car with, what I would consider, basic, standard amenities and received a car that fell amazingly short of my expectations.

Thankfully during my trip I was only in that car for a short amount of time so wasn’t a huge inconvenience but Payless Car Rental should have paid more. A car this basic should not have even been in their Fleet.

How You Respond Matters More Than You Think

Expectations often go unmet but the real concern is how you respond to those missed expectations. Your response can make the difference between a high-performer and an under-performer.

I’ve worked with bosses who felt it was their responsibility to berate me if my performance didn’t meet their unstated expectations. I’ve coached leaders who felt that “giving someone a piece of their mind” was the best way to ensure expectations were met the next time.

I’ve been there. You are so exasperated by another unmet expectation, something else for you to remedy that you feel that you have a right to “blast” this person. But let me be very clear “giving someone both barrels” will feel good for a moment but the long-term ramifications will be devastating. You will make an enemy, destroy a relationship, and guarantee that this person will never, ever give you their best work.

Perfection or Excellence

How many times have you done something perfectly? When it comes to missed expectations perfection is going to be right up there at the top. Expecting your team members to do anything perfectly is going to set you up for frustration.

Perfectionism isn’t healthy and it’s not realistic. Excellence is a more reasonable expectation. Excellence is striving for high, but attainable standards.

Excellence is striving for high but attainable goals. Perfectionism is just frustrating and disappointing.

Handling Missed Expectations


Let’s start with the terrible way, because it’s far too common. For too many leaders, this is your default response to negative situations. The best of us have bad days, but raging and raising your voice is never an appropriate response. When I encounter leaders who have “anger issues” or feel that they have to yell to get results, as an executive coach, I address this is a skillset deficiency.

poorly handling missed expectations

Most of us don’t have another option. I will give you four better ways to control yourself under stress. But raging at your team will only isolate you from your team. One thing many leaders forget is that as the leader you are held to a higher standard. Your response is what people will remember.

Remember that insightful quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Losing your cool is a quick way to lose your authority and your right to lead.

Think about that before you respond to missed expectations.


A better first step is to reflect. This gives you two quick benefits: 1. You have a chance to think before you speak; 2. You can review your directions to see if your request was clear enough or understood.

I’ve written about setting clear expectations here.

One of Thomas Jefferson’s canons of conduct in life was to pause when angry. He said “When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.”

It’s easier to blame someone else’s incompetence than to look in the mirror and ask “What role did I play in this mess”? And even if you did everything you could, the buck still stops with you.

So reflect on how you can avoid this mistake in the future. Reflection gives you the opportunity to learn from mistakes so you don’t repeat them.


When your expectations are unmet the job still needs to be done. This step helps you to focus on solving the problem, getting the results, and moving forward instead of focusing on the problem.

What you want to do is acknowledge accountability but focus on solutions.

redirect reflect restore

By redirecting you can work through the problem and allow your team member to redeem themselves in the process. Redirection can happen quickly and easily by asking a few questions. Where did we get off track? What did we learn? What can we do right now to get back on track?

Redirection allows you to shift gears and draw your team member into the process of solving the issues and reclaiming control. This will help them to re-engage with more enthusiasm.


Everyone makes mistakes, even you. When you make mistakes how would you prefer to be treated: as a worthless screw-up or a valued member of the team who has made a mistake? I’m pretty sure you would prefer to be treated as a valuable member of a team.

When they say I’m sorry or try to make up for the mistake, let them. Allow them to make things right and then don’t hold their past mistake against them.

Ok, we all remember when other people screw up, it’s our own screw-ups we tend to forget. Be that leader who manages to see the best in their people remembering that they are human.

Remember we learn more from our mistakes and it’s been my experience that those lessons last longer. So don’t expect perfection because that’s an expectation that will often go unmet.


Remind your team member of their worth and value to the team and how what they do impact the team. Give them a pep talk and help them move past this mistake. 

The goal is to ensure that this person stays engaged and walks away from this missed expectations conversation with their pride and self-worth intact. Furthermore, they are reminded that the team works best with them at their best.

handling missed expectations

Remember the real goal when things go wrong is to get the project back on track, the task completed, or the order out the door. The goal isn’t to destroy the person who made the mistake. The real goal when things go wrong is to get the project back on track, the task completed, or the order out the door, not punish the person who made the mistake.

My car rental snafu was a minor annoyance and I moved on. When your team members make mistakes, and they will remember to help them fix it so they can move on.

Key Takeaways

Yelling is never an appropriate response.

Perfection is unrealistic, strive for excellence.

Use mistakes and missed expectations as learning opportunities.

Give the team member the opportunity to make things right.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Drop a comment below and I will read and respond.

About the author 

Dr. David Arrington

David a husband, father and the principal of Arrington Coaching. He and his team work with leaders, teams, organizations, and entrepreneurs. He regularly speaks and writes on leadership development, team alignment, and peak performance.

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