A few weeks ago, I had a startling revelation about awareness of standards over a hamburger with a friend.

I had a coupon for a free meal that I redeemed at the cash register and told the cashier, “I don’t want the soda.” She replied, “I can upgrade your fries if you would like. You could get a mix of the parmesan and buffalo flavoring…Parmalo.” I was feeling adventurous so I accepted her offer. I did not like the spicy sensation as I ate the first Parmalo fry. I whined to my friend, “These French fries are too spicy,” he ate one and said, “these aren’t spicy.” It hit me, my standard for spicy was different than my friend’s standard for spicy.

So, what do standards for spicy food have to do with coaching and leadership?

Misunderstanding is bound to happen if I assume my standards for spicy (or collaboration, or engagement, or open communication, or good) are the same as yours.

Coaching to Standards:

Recently, I had a client who wanted a direct report to be more relaxed in meetings.

Client-“I just want her to be more relaxed in our meetings.”

Coach-“What do you mean by relaxed?”

Client-“Well, you know how we talk right now.”

Coach-“How would you describe how we are talking?”

Client-“You are candid with me, joke around and don’t shy away from giving me feedback. There is an easy ebb and flow to our conversation. You know relaxed.”

Coach-“How do you think she would define relaxed?”

Through our conversation, he developed awareness for his standard for ‘relaxed’ in meetings. Hence, with this awareness of his standard for relaxed, he can adjust his expectations or explain more directly to the individual the tone that he prefers in their conversations.

As a leader, it is vital to be aware of your standards and know that those you lead probably have a different judgment or orientation. As a coach, awareness of your own standards and inquiry into your client’s standards for key words will reveal a multitude of possibilities.

Remember, spicy for me may not mean spicy for you.

-Jason Veliquette