Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

Jack is a 26-year-old programmer who works from home and has zero qualms about spending 1/3 of each work day playing Pokémon Go on his iPad.

I’d met Jack at a recent networking event, and found myself fascinated by his unscrupulous use of company time chasing down Pikachu. When I asked him if he ever felt bad about it, he just shrugged his shoulders and said:

“I do everything I know I’m supposed to do. But there’s a whole lot I’m not clear on. My boss is super busy and scattered; every time I try to understand my job better, he says he’ll have to get back to me. Until he does, imma keep catching Pokémon.”

Jack isn’t all that unique. Not long ago, Gallup found that less than 40 of young remote or hybrid employees clearly know what’s expected of them on the job.*

Does that mean there are a bunch of Gen Z workers sitting at home not really doing their job because they haven’t made the effort to understand what, how, and on what timeline they’re supposed to be getting stuff done?

Well. Yes. Yes it does.

But it also points to a lot of bosses out there who aren’t communicating expectations clearly and consistently—especially with remote-working team members.

If you’re a leader and this problem sounds familiar to you, what can you do?

First you must work toward clarity yourself. Ask:

  • Am I so busy putting out my own fires that I haven’t taken time to tend to my team’s lack of focus?
  • Am I dialed into tasks, activities, or projects that fall outside our core mission as a business or team?
  • Am I caught up doing “good” things that are keeping me from “the best” things?

Only after you yourself are clear on priorities, expectations, problems, and possible solutions will you be able to communicate that to others.

And when it comes to conveying all that, here are some helpful guidelines.

Seven Leadership Guidelines for Communicating Expectations

  1. Be specific. Simply state the goals and priorities. Make things “drop dead easy” for people to understand. Simplicity and specificity takes work! Anyone can be convoluted.
  2. Be empathic. Get into others’ heads. What do they know and not know? What details do you need to include to help them wrap their mind around the thing? What can you leave out?
  3. Be truthful. If there are, e.g., numbers you aren’t proud of because they point to underperformance for you or your team, practice radical acceptance of what is the case, and communicate that to others in a calm and non-shaming way.
  4. Be an example. Spend the most time and effort, yourself, on the top priorities. Are you tending to the little pots on the front of the stove, and ignoring that big pot on the back burner that will soon boil over if you don’t tend to it? Stop it! It sets a bad example.
  5. Be supportive. No one can do it all. If you really need Sally, whose plate is full, to do more of X, guide her to eliminate or simplify Y, so she has time to focus on it. Clarity is often about elimination—bye-bye good thing, hello best thing. People experience that as deeply compassionate—because again, no one can do it all.
  6. Be forthright about positive and negative outcomes. Say,“If X doesn’t get done, it’s likely that Y [negative outcome] will happen.” If X does get done, it’s likely that Y [positive outcome] will happen.”
  7. Be a listener. Foster an environment of open communication, where your colleagues trust they can be clear with you, too. Ask them questions like: Where are you feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, scattered, anxious? What’s going well? Where do you feel murky? How can I better support and guide you?

Clarity is one of the most essential and compassionate things you can provide for those you lead. When roles and expectations are laid out precisely, it helps people feel confident and secure in their work. (Even if, alas, they aren’t catching as many Pokémon!)

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.