Handling Changes in Expectations

Beverley Simpson

Q: I have recently been hired by an organization to lead a leadership development initiative and run a workshop for its senior leadership team. But now that I'm into it I realize that the client has a very different need and expectations of the outcome have changed. Any advice on how I might handle this situation?

A: In our line of work, as independent consultants and coaches, this type of situation happens often. The art of being flexible and maintaining a focus on meeting the client's needs is a critical skill that we always need to keep sharpening.

When working with a potential new client recently, I had a similar experience that might offer some insight. This was a hospital laboratory management association, a nonprofit, with oversight provided by a Board of Directors. The original goal was to bring leaders that were members of the association's Board together to discuss how to advance the concepts and practices of leadership among themselves and their association members. My contact, who had approached me about working with this association, had attended a Leadership Challenge workshop that I had led with another group—hence her request. So, in my original proposal I offered a modified workshop program.

As we met to finalize the agenda for the day of leadership work, the group shifted gears. Although I was ready to help the Board dive into developing their own leadership effectiveness and to take The Five Practices out to the broader membership, the Board wanted to focus on the association's current state and where they wanted to be in the foreseeable future. At the same time, others wanted to be sure that leadership was on the agenda and that a final product of the day included a leadership program that could be offered to member agencies.

Out of that collaboration came a one-day agenda that combines the best of both worlds: a morning spent exploring the association's past and present, using Appreciative Inquiry to define the elements of the group's vision of the preferred future; an afternoon using The Five Practices to carve out a plan to take the vision elements forward. Next steps brought Model the Way to the Board of Directors, Inspire a Shared Vision to the association's members, and Challenge the Process to address those elements that weren't working. Finally, Enable Others to Act and Encourage the Heart formed the basis of a plan that will take the association to the next level while introducing The Five Practices model that individuals and the whole group can use for both personal and group leadership.

Although clients that change their minds come from all industries—in all colors and stripes—I've found that this occurs more often with groups that have little time to talk together in depth (e.g., Boards of Directors that meet quarterly or once-a-month at most). They often don't discuss the organization's past, current issues and challenges, and their preferred future. But once the topic of leadership development is raised, there is often a hunger for more as they see the importance of crafting a compelling vision of the future state they would like to help the organization create.

Beverley Simpson is principal of Toronto-based Beverley Simpson Associates and a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge. A nurse by training, she specializes in people, teams, and systems development in healthcare. She can be reached at bev@beverleysimpson.com

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