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  • Writer's pictureacoachsdiary

RELATIONSHIPS vs EXPECTATIONS How to Give and Be What They Need

Guiding Question: Do you drive performance through relationships or expectations?

“Let’s be honest, and let's be real; as a coach, you are not going to like all of your players equally. You are going to like some more than the others, but for sure, you need to make sure that you are giving everybody equal opportunities.” 

This was a quote from Golden State head basketball coach Steve Kerr, shared by Francesca Gino, a researcher and author, on a Coaching Coaches podcast.

Francesca did a case study for the Harvard Business School on Coach Kerr and the four core values that drive his leadership style: joy, compassion, competition, and mindfulness. When a lot of us were growing up, traditional, old-school coaches and leaders led with a big stick, using power-tools like expectations, fear, and punishment to drive performance. On the podcast, Fransesco was asked if she thought a coach or leader could be successful today leading like that, or would they need pro-tools like relationships, compassion, empathy, and vulnerability.

She said there are two important dimensions of leadership and coaching:

- Relationships

- Expectations

Self-awareness is knowing which side you lean on most, when, and how. Great leadership and coaching is also knowing what the people around you need the most, and when, so they can do their best work.

Having both strong relationships and high and clearly defined expectations helps you maximize your ability to coach and lead.


The reflection tool below will help you assess and reflect on where you are:

Another reflection tool you can use is the line below. You can’t mark yourself in the middle; you have to pick a side. But how far on either side are you? If you are all about relationships and struggle to define clear expectations, delegate, and hold people accountable, mark yourself closer to relationships. If you are all about the bottom line and great at holding people accountable, mark yourself closer to expectations.

Well-rounded teams have people who are both strong with relationships and strong with expectations. A tool like this might be valuable in the hiring process and as you restructure teams.

One meaningful reflection question to use is: If I were to ask the people you work with and live with where on the graph you fit, what would they say?

Fransesca says she likes to ask the leaders and coaches she works with this question, and so often they say, “It would depend on who you are asking.” 

But what drives those shifts and differences?

The people who would list us in the high-high category, meaning we have strong, high relationships, and strong, high expectations, are probably the people we like or the people we spend the most time with and give the most positive attention to.

A good follow-up question to ask is, “What is behind that liking?” Often, it's because we have a similar energy, similar approaches to how we do things, or come from similar backgrounds, but we might be coaching and leading in ways that aren’t fair because we are being driven by liking and affinity bias (we gravitate toward people like ourselves in appearance, beliefs, and background).

Coach Kerr is also quoted as saying:

“We’re all from different backgrounds, but deep down we’re all the same. We’re all humans, we all have vulnerabilities, the difference is merely in our experiences and how those vulnerabilities are manifested.”

When our people are underperforming, a coach without relationships might look at someone and ask, “What is wrong with you?” A coach with relationships might respond with compassion and ask, “What can I do to better support you?”


Some team members who you work with and lead NEED to be and feel connected, and some just need to be told what they are expected to do, when, and how.

Some athletes need to be yelled at, and some need to be talked to.

Some research shows how different generations respond to different types of leadership. Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born 1997-2012) generations often value close friendships and social connections more than traditional family structures, while Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and Generation X (born 1965-1980) generations may prioritize family and close-knit relationships built over time.

While these generalizations help, putting people in a box can be dangerous.

Take some time this week to ask your people where they fit and what they need to do their best work. The more we get to know the people we lead and do life with, the more we know what motivates, encourages, and inspires them. 

The more we know about them, the better we can create environments where they can do their best work.


1 - Which quadrant of the Relationship-Expectation Graph would you put yourself in? How does that positively impact your work and leadership? How does it hurt you?

2 - Which quadrant would the people you work with, lead, or live with put you in?

3 - How far to the left or right would you rate yourself on the Relationship-Expectation Line? How does that positively impact your work and leadership? How does it hurt you?

4 - Which quadrant would the people you work with, lead, or live with put you in?

5 - If you could communicate one thing to the people you work with so that they could better understand you, what would it be?


  • If you are more relationally driven, how can you get better at setting expectations and holding people accountable?

  • If you are driven more by expectations, how can you build more relationships so that the people you are leading and driving know you care?

For a printable PDF version of this post, click here: Relationships vs Expectations

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