The other day my wife and I were having a discussion on why some children misbehave out in public to the extreme while others seem to have their act together. My wife, one of 7 children, said that in her opinion children are the direct result of what their parents expect them to be most of the time. For instance, if a parent tells their child when they're young that they're really smart and intelligent, a child will go out of their way to live up to it. But if a parent is always telling a child how stupid and misbehaved they are, a child will live down to that expectation because it's what's being reinforced in their minds.

Of course there are no absolutes, and children in both circumstances will sometimes become what their parents didn't expect, but there's a lot to be said for deciding how to influence people to go in the direction you'd like them to go. Some might call it manipulation but I tend to think of manipulation as a negative whereas motivation is seen as a positive.

What do I mean? Let's say that your company makes some kind of widget and you have an assembly line process where each person is responsible for one thing as it pertains to your product. For everything to stay status quo for the company you need each person to complete at least 300 pieces of their part of the widget each day. So that's the figure you as the manager look for from each person. Sounds good, right?

What do you then do if you're putting things together, reviewing the process, and suddenly realize that your employees could actually be putting out 500 pieces a day? Or what happens if you know that some of your people are so good that they could easily put out way more?

This type of thing happens in almost every business I've ever seen where there's more than 10 employees. There are people who are supreme, and there are those who are there to only get a paycheck. If managers expect their employees to only live up to a certain standard, that's exactly what most of them will live up to without some kind of engagement in the company. If there's no benefit to an employee to do more, and it's not expected of them, then that's where an employee will stay until they get so bored that they decide it's time to find something more challenging and mentally stimulating.

Sometimes there's a fine balance between pushing someone too much and not pushing them enough. Leaders have to figure out which way they want to go, but it's always better to try to get people to live up to and surpass expectations. It's always best to try to motivate everyone to be the best they can be; no one at the top ever complains when someone gives them more than what they thought was possible. And while you're at it, expect more from yourself as well; nothing works better than leading by example.