Great Expectations: The Boss/Direct Report Tango

What should a leader expect from a direct report and what can the latter expect from the leader in return?

When both parties have clear expectations, the relationship is smooth like a tango. If one person gets out of step, however, the ensuing relationship makes for discord.

While much has been written about what makes a great leader, there is little discussion about the relationship dynamics between a leader and a direct report — until now, that is. Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Allied Signal and coauthor of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (Crown Business, 2002), recently proposed a compact between boss and subordinate.

Bossidy outlines his preferred set of expectations in a Harvard Business Review article, “What Your Leader Expects of You, And What You Should Expect in Return” (April 2007).

These expectations form the basis of the relationship and can be used to measure performance behaviors for appraisal reviews. Even though a direct report’s expectations for the boss may have less leverage, setting clear expectations facilitates their relationship.

A set of expectations can and should work both ways. Certain behaviors on the part of both leader and direct report are crucial to performance, as well as forming rewarding relationships. Setting clear expectations keeps people focused on what really matters and helps guide them when things get off track.


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There are two versions of this article: 2000 words and 1000 words (approximate word counts). The full article covers the following sub-topics:

Nine Expectations of the Boss

Lead Initiatives
Develop Leaders
Stay Current
Drive Growth
A Player for All Seasons

What a Direct Report Should Expect From the Boss

Clarity of Direction
Goals and Objectives
Decisive and Timely
Honesty and Candor
Equitable Compensation
Bureaucracy at Bay

More Lessons from Bad Leadership


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