Rainbow-Colored Unicorns – Part 1

Rainbow-Colored Unicorns – Part 1

You’re a rainbow-colored unicorn who’s more than a little special—and you’re in pain.

You operate at a higher level than most people and have high expectations. When others don’t operate at your level (or the level that you expect them to), it frustrates you…immensely.

I work almost exclusively with high-performing individuals (a.k.a. rainbow-colored unicorns), so I see many of my clients dealing with this issue. Whether someone is the CEO of a startup, an established entrepreneur with a track record of success, or the CFO of a middle market organization with revenue exceeding $200M, the struggle is similar. The bottom line is that you will face this problem if your expectations consistently exceed the abilities of those you work with.

So, what’s really going on, and is there a solution?

I’ll tackle this issue in two parts, addressing one of them in this post and another in another blog post soon. Part One is a list of primary reasons why many people face the issue. Part Two will offer suggestions for overcoming the problem.

Top 5 Reasons Why Leaders’ Expectations and Team Members’ Performance Don’t Jive

There are quite a few reasons why a mismatch might occur between your expectations and the performance of your people. This list is not comprehensive, but it addresses the most predominant causes of imbalance.

  1. You have unattainable expectations.

Many high performers are victims of their own success. Yet just because you’ve crushed it in “X” doesn’t mean that everyone is capable of that same exemplary level of performance. Similarly, many high performers fall victim to constant bar raising. They have high expectations to begin with, and when those expectations are met, they move the goal line to demand even more. You might think of it as a perpetual state of “It’s never good enough.” In either scenario, the common denominator is unrealistic expectations.

  1. Your employees lack engagement and purpose.

Your Passion ≠ Passionate Employees. It’s common knowledge that only 32 percent of U.S. employees are engaged. This statistic hasn’t budged in 20 years. In my experience, lack of team engagement is related directly to whether or not your organization:

a) has a purpose that folks can rally behind, and

b) aligns individual employees’ purpose with that of the organization.

  1. You put capable team members in the wrong seats on the bus.

Jim Collins published “Good to Great” nearly 20 years ago, yet employers still struggle to properly seat employees. If you have high expectations and haven’t taken the time to determine whether your “good” people are in the right seats, then there’s a better than average chance that your bus is headed straight for a cliff.

  1. You’re hiring approach is a disaster.

If you fail to hire the right people, you never have a chance to get them in the “right seat.” Perhaps you’re hiring solely for skill and not attitude. Perhaps you’re settling for lower-paid, less competent employees because you’re unable or unwilling to pay what the market now demands. Or, perhaps you’re hiring on “gut feel” and intuition because you believe that you’re a human hiring machine with a superior instinct for talent acquisition. Regardless, your hiring process is broken, and the people you’re bringing in are incapable of meeting your expectations.

  1. Your processes stink.

This theme has two variations: inexperience and ossification.

Inexperience is when smaller organizations start to scale, and their processes don’t keep up. Essential items slip through the cracks, deadlines get missed, and important issues fail to be addressed. Ossification occurs primarily with larger (often older, more established) organizations. It’s when process has taken on the form of a magical incantation that must be perfectly uttered every time in every circumstance. Both are dangerous traps. Even if all of your employees are “A Players,” inadequate or ossified processes inevitably result in unmet expectations.

One More Reason Why

Finally, there’s another contributing factor I’d be remiss not to mention: personal circumstance. Every morning, your team members bring to their jobs a wagonload of problems and challenges that aren’t work-related. These issues are emotional for each individual—and to some degree, they detract from the capacity to perform optimally.

As leaders, we often expect everyone to be at their very best every day, but the hard truth is that most of us are rarely—if ever—at 100 percent. Remember this the next time that someone fails to meet your expectations. We’re all human, and we all have emotional matters weighing on us and having an impact on our work performance.

An Invitation for All You Rainbow-Colored Unicorns

Do any of the above scenarios sound familiar to you? What else do you think contributes to the problem? Drop me a line or leave a comment to share your thoughts. I always enjoy hearing from you, and I look forward to sharing practical tips for closing the gap between expectations and performance in Part Two of this series.


  1. I read a great article recently, OR, what I read was in one of the many books I’ve read, that spoke about company “founders” getting pissed about employees not hitting expectations and “caring as much” as the owner. “NO SHIT”! Get over it. You’re the owner! No one is going to care as much as you. This was really good. I look forward to “part II”.

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