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Updated 29 Feb 2020

Why unrealistic expectations are good for you (and your business)

In the highly competitive market environment we operate in, unrealistic expectations may be the differentiating factor you need to secure your place as a market leader. 

Su-Mari Du Bruyn, 30 October 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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Chances are that at one or other point in your life and in your career, you have faced a situation caused by unreasonable expectations. Perhaps, you were the person with the unreasonable expectation or maybe it was your boss or a customer? Irrespective, the more important question to consider is how you responded within that situation, and what the outcome was?

The pros of being unrealistic

Over the years I have noticed an incredible phenomenon – how unreasonable expectations are often enthusiastically met by people who surprise even themselves. In contrast, some people are frustrated and demotivated in the face of unreasonable expectations, undermining the amount of effort they invest and subsequently also the outcome.

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They get stuck, focussing on why the situation is impossible and / or unfair, and in the process they do themselves a great disservice. As leaders in business, at home and in society, I believe we have a responsibility not only to create unreasonable expectations, but also to help those around us to excel when faced with them, instead of remaining stuck.

Take a measured approach

I realise that this may be perceived as a statement of provocation, but I believe that challenging the status quo with unreasonable expectations creates possibility. The possibility that maybe we are capable of doing something faster, or better, than anyone else in the world has ever done it.

I believe that when unrealistic expectations are communicated with great confidence, it can inspire greatness. The key to a successful and value adding unrealistic expectation lies in the underlying faith in your team’s ability; to find a way where there currently is no easy answer or known recipe.

And, when it is met with a confident ‘we will do our best’, amazing results are sure to follow. The proof is all over the internet, found in inspiring stories of amazing human beings who have overcome adversity and accomplished incredible things

Don’t add too much pressure

There is a fine line to tread when it comes to unreasonable expectations. There is a big difference between pushing the boundaries and setting people up for failure. Unfortunately, there is no clear sign of when you have gone entirely too far.

I therefore recommend that (as with most things in life) you start small and experiment. Actively challenge your team to consistently do things a little better, a litter faster. Aim for an improvement target of 5% and when you hit that target go for 10% and then 15%.

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As your team develops its skills and this becomes a new habit embedded in your culture, you will get to a point where you can start to put bigger challenges out there and they will have built up enough confidence in themselves to make it happen.

Even if you only achieve 3% when you set out for 5%, it will be a 3% improvement that you otherwise wouldn’t have attained. So go ahead and be a little bit more (realistically) unreasonable today.

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About the author

Su-Mari Du Bruyn

Su-Mari Du Bruyn is co-founder of Adapt To Change. She is a qualified HR practitioner and logistics specialist and is passionate about Continuous Improvement and people development. Through Adapt To Change she assists businesses to improve their business performance and better engage their staff. Su-Mari also recently launched her e-book business guide, The Power to Ignite. Available exclusively on for Kindle, The Power to Ignite is a practical guide to the powerful art of Continuous Improvement, sharing proven methodology and highlighting important dos and don’ts in engaging staff and improving business results.

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