The Pygmalion Effect

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I have been the receiver of both sides of the Pygmalion Effect.  The Pygmalion Effect is in essence the power of expectations. In middle school, the teachers I came into contact with did not set a high standard.  My experience was that they wanted to get through the day and therefore that became my goal as well.  In fact, I had one teacher who shared that I would not amount to anything.

It was not until high school, when the teachers there raised the standard.  The message was one of service, accomplishment, achievement and leadership.  In fact, they began to see me as a leader.  That became apparent when I made honor role after spending most of my career as a 2.5 GPA student.  Suddenly, I thought “I have the ability, potential and skill to be a 3.5 GPA student.”

Thy Pygmailion Myth takes us back to mythology.  In Ovid’s narrative, Pygmalion was a sculptor who carved a woman, whom he eventually fell in love with.   Eventually, Aphrodite allowed the statue to become real.  In essence, Pygmalion’s strong love or high expectations created a real live woman.

In education, the work of Rosenthal and Jacobson built upon the myth and went so far as to conclude that the higher the level of expectations from teachers, the higher the academic performance of students.

As a leader you have the opportunity to set high positive expectations on others.

Here are 3 examples of how the Pygmalion Effect translates to your leadership:

1.) Meetings:  Next time you lead a meeting, be clear on the purpose and deliverables.  Additionally, set the expectation by establishing norms and roles well in advance of the meeting.  Also, leave the data at the door for now and have your team work through a couple of business challenges and support each other.

2.) Performance: You may be setting goals that are too low.  How good are you at addressing issues early on vs. waiting for them to simply go away?  Set the expectations right from the start.  It was Winston Churchill that said, “Never give in!”  Employees need a sense of personal impact and a sense of purpose to perform at their best.

3.) Personal Expectations: Are the expectations you have on yourself the same as those for your team?  It was Robert Louis Stevenson that said, “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”  This is about staying positive in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety.

What are some of the risks when you expect too little from your team? You may also wish to reflect upon why your expectations are where they are.  Perhaps this is a difficult time in your business, sales are slow or your perception of yourself is not strong enough to perpetuate high expectations onto others.

Your expectations both positive and negative matter.  It starts with the expectations you have on yourself and this will translate to others.  Imagine the positive outcome you wish to create for your team.