The Solutions to Unrealistic Expectations of Women

How do women deal with unrealistic expectations? How do these unrealistic expectations develop?

In pursuit of perfection, women tend to develop unrealistically high expectations for themselves. According to How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, these impede their progress in numerous ways.

Let’s look at how unrealistic expectations of women cause negative consequences.

Unrealistic Expectations

First, unrealistic expectations of women cause high levels of stress and strong negative emotions when those expectations aren’t met. Overly high expectations also cause women to hyper-focus on small details in pursuit of perfection, which can prevent them from reaching their big-picture goals. Perfectionists tend to avoid taking risks due to their fear of failure, which can disrupt their ability to advance their careers—as the authors point out, risk-taking is a sought-after leadership quality because it enhances innovation.

(Shortform note: Experts reiterate the negative outcomes of unrealistic expectations and explain that you can use SMART goals to determine whether you’re setting yourself up for failure. First, ensure your goal is Specific—what do you want, how will you get there, and who’s responsible? Then ensure your goal is Measurable—what benchmarks will indicate progress and completion? Next, ensure your goal is Achievable—is it realistic, given constraints like time and resources? Check that the goal is Relevant—is it contributing to an important bigger picture? Finally, consider Timing—when do you want to start and finish the project?)

Perfectionism may also damage perfectionists’ reputations and relationships. First, they often have unrealistically high expectations of others as well as themselves, which may cause people to become resentful. Second, their high expectations constantly stress them out, which also stresses out the people around them.

(Shortform note: While unrealistic expectations of others in the workplace tend to have negative outcomes, realistic expectations can produce positive outcomes. For example, having realistic expectations boosts productivity—when people are able to meet expectations, they feel a sense of accomplishment that increases their morale. This also increases their confidence and well-being. If you’re able to cause these effects in your team members, you’ll arguably be considered a strong leader by others, making you more likely to advance your career.)

Unrealistic Expectations: The Solutions

The authors suggest a few solutions to overcome the negative impacts of having unrealistic expectations.

1. Let go of control. Trust other people to use their skills and knowledge to complete tasks, rather than trying to do everything yourself or constantly looking over people’s shoulders to achieve “perfect” results.

2. Learn to prioritize. Instead of focusing on perfecting every detail, identify the most important things you need to focus on to produce satisfactory results. Delegate tasks that don’t require your direct attention.

3. Get comfortable taking risks. You don’t need to do anything that will put your career on the line, but start taking risks that have a high probability of success.

To Spread Career Success, Be a “Trust and Inspire” Leader

In Trust and Inspire, Stephen Covey distinguishes effective “trust and inspire” leaders from ineffective “command and control” leaders. He explains that trust and inspire leaders effect the most success—for themselves, their employees and coworkers, and their organizations—because they empower people to reach their full potential and boost creativity and innovation. 

This is because when you let go of control, not only do you have more time to work on your own tasks, but you also inspire others to produce high-quality results by showing them that you trust them and believe they’re capable. Further, when you prioritize big-picture results rather than perfecting small details of the process, you leave more room for innovation and creativity. When you take measured risks, you’re more likely to uncover new opportunities and innovations that will expedite your progress toward your goals. 
The Solutions to Unrealistic Expectations of Women

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Here's what you'll find in our full How Women Rise summary:

  • The limiting mindset many women develop that stunts their careers
  • The four thought patterns that women need to break free from
  • Why striving for perfectionism is asking for failure

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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