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How to Fix these Peculiar Problems?

By Mick Fleming

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to say: “The main cause of problems is solutions.” I’ve had many reasons to agree with this statement, especially when it comes to home improvements. In two of the many older houses my wife and I lived in, we came across asbestos, which of course was once a solution to fire hazards, but is now a potential health problem.

The other big cause of problems is expectations. Because we expect things, like love, good service, logic and peace in our time, we create the likelihood of disappointment and . . . problems. The cause and effect involves both expectations we have of ourselves and the expectations that spouses, bosses, co-workers, politicians, chairmen, and members have of us.

I’m sure you’ve heard and probably used the tongue-in-cheek expression: “This job would be so much easier if only we didn’t have members.” The problem, as I see it, isn’t with the members, but rather with the high expectations that come along with each of them. Yes, our organizations can have challenges (chamber euphemism for problems). But those problems are compounded as a result of sometimes unexpressed expectations you and your members have of each other

For instance, a board member who’s a second generation owner of a successful business may seem to be chronically defensive, maybe because he must attempt to maintain, if not expand, the family fortune. You may not even know that he expects your organization to preserve the predictability of the climate in which that firm does business. That expectation runs smack into your focus on the future and growth.

And what of your expectations of loyalty and continued investment from him?

Expectations of delivery speed and project pace by board members and committee chairs are out of line with reality. Chamber staffers must refrain from chuckling during meetings in which their 50-hour weeks are parsed out to 40 diverse priorities.

And it isn’t just volunteers who embrace unrealistic deadlines for progress and/or completion. Whether managing up (staff pushing CEO), or leading from the front (boss pulling staff by the collar), it is the expectation of alacrity (one of my favorite words) that gets us in trouble. One of the biggest myths in chamber life is a staffer’s job description.

Candidates for office and advocates for ballot initiatives seldom believe that the chamber would not understand and meet their expectations for active support and/or money. Auditors? Reporters? Educators? Outside and inside researchers (like ACCE)? Significant others? They all have expectations of you and/or your organization. And, of course, you have expectations of them. And all of these hoped-for results breed disappointment and problems.

The most egregiously unrealistic expectations may be those expressed, or sometimes assumed between business or community partners. I remember a plastic injection firm CEO who was on my board when I ran the Manufacturers Association of Central New York. He used to say, “God save me from suppliers and customers who come in to my office asking to be my partner.” If the pain of partner expectations is acute for a manufacturer who has just two or three partner categories, how much more impact is felt by a chamber?

Having a few board members ready to suggest even more such relationships in the spirit of working with good people they know in other organizations adds to the excitement of chamber life.

And, of course, you’re probably failing to meet some of the expectations partners have of you. Partners…expectations…problems.

So, having raised your expectations of a solution to this expectation problem, I will try not to disappoint. People I admire have helped me identify three potential solutions to the problem of expectations:

  1. Keep your aspirations higher than your expectations of others, especially volunteers and family members.
  2. Don’t be embarrassed about admitting frailties when you say no. “Sorry, I don’t have the guts to go on the record, or on the jointly signed correspondence.” or “Actually, what you’re asking of us/me is neither a core competency nor a priority, so it will be placed last on the to-do list and the work will be bad.” Or best of all, “I am absolutely sure I will not have time to help you within a timeframe that can help you.”
  3. Clarity wins the day. Ask for it and give it. Put what you can in writing and don’t wait until the delivery date to remind yourself or others of the deal.

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