When Benjamin Zander, the longtime conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, found himself a teacher to young students at the New England Conservatory of Music, he decided to tackle the issue of student self-doubt head on.
He learned from experience that even the best musicians fear making mistakes and dread the conductor’s evaluation of their performance. So, on the first day of class, Zander would announce to his students that everyone would receive the grade of “A” for the course, as long as they met one condition: the students would have to submit a letter written on that first day — but dated on the last day of the class in May.
The letter was to begin: Dear Mr. Zander, I deserve an A in this class because… In other words, the students had to describe to Zander at the beginning of the course who they would become by the end of the class in order to justify the highest evaluation.
Zander found that students performed differently when they were asked to “live into” an evaluation as opposed to receiving one. The power of expectation should never be underestimated. When people we respect expect wonderful things from us, we often perform in ways that exceed everything we thought we were capable of.
Great leaders not only set expectations, but create them. Extraordinary things happen when we expect more and evaluate less.