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Playing in the Gap

During a recent presentation, I asked participants to write the top five qualities of a great supervisor on sticky notes. One quality per note.


I asked, “What do you have on the list?” Someone yelled out, “Honesty.”

I asked, “How many have honesty.” Nearly everyone in the room raised their hand.

They gathered their honesty-related sticky notes and attached them to the outline of a supervisor in the front of the room.

Communication, listening, compassion, and honesty seemed to top the list.

Managers and supervisors:

I asked the managers and supervisors in the room to record their thoughts on the top qualities of a supervisor, but to keep them. Toward the end of the exercise, I asked the supervisors/managers if their lists line up with the organization as a whole? What do you have that’s different?

One person said, “Sets expectations.” I hadn’t heard that one from the larger group so I asked, “Who has ‘sets expectations’ on their top five list? Not a single person raised their hand.

Playing in the gap:

Gaps are opportunities for conversation.

Connected organizations grow. Isolated organizations fall apart. The difference is conversation over coercion. 


  1. How do we want to be with each other? What behaviors take us there?
  2. What matters now, with this gap in mind?
  3. What assumptions do we have about “setting expectations”?
  4. What do expectation gaps say about us?
  5. If things were going perfectly, what would it look like. (No, everyone wouldn’t magically think the same way.)

What dangers might need to be considered, when organizations play in the gap?

How might organizations successfully play in the gap?

Note on the ‘5 qualities of a great manager’ exercise:

It would have been more useful to ask for behaviors of great managers, not qualities. The next time I do this, I’ll ask participants to think of a quality and distill it into a behavior.


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