Standards vs Expectations

“Never ever lower your standards! But son, when you are dealing with people, you may have sometimes lower your expectations.”

Al Frame

This quote from my Pastor, Alphonso Montgomery, was one of the greatest and most liberating pieces of leadership counsel I have ever received in my entire 26 years of leadership. I don’t think I remember anything else spoken in that conversation when this statement was made to me, because it shook me to my core. It changed my perspective of leadership as a husband, as a father, as a pastor, as a manager and as a CEO. I say that it was liberating for several reasons.

  1. Because it let me know that I can lower my expectations without sacrificing my standards.
  2. It gave me the freedom to give those around me the freedom to fail.
  3. It freed me from being frustrated with my own frailty, as well as the frailty of others.
  4. It gave me the insight to understand how to navigate around the weaknesses of others.

Yes! That one statement totally grabbed my attention and shook me into the reality that there is a vast difference between Standards and Expectations. I can imagine that now you are asking the one question that surged through my mind for several months after that statement was heard coming out of Al Montgomery’s mouth: What is the difference between standards and expectations? Great question! I’m glad you asked.


A standard is a measurement that establishes a rule of preference for performance, morality, appearance or lifestyle. Standards are often the framework around the development of organizations, as well as relationships. Anything outside of that framework is often considered non-integral or a threat to that entity’s success.



An expectation, on the other hand, is more subjective in that it is based upon the ability of an individual, their moral compass, their characteristics and their natural inclinations. If an organization or individual seeks to establish and maintain a relationship with people, they must weigh their preferences against the backdrop of the individual they seek to add to their team.  This is an option within interpersonal relationships. However, within an organization it is not only challenging, in many regards it can be downright illegal.

A church can’t perform Vulcan Mind Melds on new congregants or converts to understand their makeup.


Employers can’t guarantee that they will pick the absolute best person for a position, even after a three-phase interview process, nor can they disqualify candidates based on the preferences of the one being interviewed.


Even with the stringent background checks performed by government agencies like the FBI and CIA, a persons ability to remain loyal to standards in every situation cannot be clearly measured. So the question now is how do I mitigate the disappointment I experience when I enter into partnership with someone and their humanity surfaces?

  1. I silence my inner judge. I must resist the tendency give a mental summation of a person based upon their failure in one area. If I minimize the value of a person to my most negative concept of who they are, I run the risk of never accomplishing my mission, because my focus is on what’s wrong with them rather than seeking to discover thpecan piee greater value they possess to make my life and organization successful. If I want a pecan pie, I must understand that some pecans have shells that are easy to crack, but some have hard shells that require a little more pressure. From my experience it is sometimes the hardest shells that have the best fruit inside, while the pecans with the softer shells can sometimes turn out to be rotten. So I must lean to not judge a nut by its shell.
  2. I seek to understand. I must realize that whether I am communicating individual standards or organizational standards, those receiving the standards are people. I cannot meet those standards without the cooperation of people. Therefore my analytics are not going to give me the data to boss-vs-leader-differences-3apply algorithms to bring a person up to my standard. That may work with systems, but not people. I must build relationships to understand the person behind the process. If I understand the person, I can develop solutions to help them understand the process. Understood people who can be trained to understand processes have a very high potential for producing results.
  3. I subsidize for their weaknesses. Many times our preferences limit our ability to grow. At the first sight of weakness in the ability of another to meet our standards, we are often seeking a strategy to abruptly or gradually process them out of our life or our organization. We must learn how to shift people to the place of their strengths or partner them with people, projects or dual overheadprocesses that can compensate for or even eliminate their weakness.    As an illustration, we can’t be so focused on the lack of oil that we are ready to trash the whole engine. Maybe if we would pour the proper amount of oil into the engine, it would outperform our standards.  We may find that small investments of time, energy or resources into an individual can yield astronomical returns in our personal lives, as well as within our organizations.
  4. I shrink my ego. I will not be able to complete the above three processes if I don’t deal with the reality that I am not perfect and my standards were not always as high. More than likely, my standards progressed over time because of my mistakes that turned into lessons. I cannot expect someone to arrive in a week or a few months time where took me 10 years to get. Yes, those lessons may be valuable and even universal, but I had to go through developmental stages to learn them. If I don’t have the same patience with others that people, God and every galaxy in the universe had with me, I become a hypocrite. Hypocrisy suffocates prolonged success, because it prevents me from passing on to others those the timeless principles that worked for me. I can choose to maintain my ego, but if I do so it is quite possible I will lose out on leaving a legacy.


It remains true that standards are necessary. They are the foundation of purpose and identity. However, if we as individuals and organizations don’t find a way to make our standards more attainable, we could miss out on opportunities to grow, establish valuable relationships and leave a lasting legacy behind us.

Now I challenge you my friends to correct those who are out of order, help those who lack understanding, be supportive to the weaknesses of others and practice patience with everyone you are in relationship with.- I Thessalonians 5:14 PKJ Version


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