The Power of the Pygmalion Effect: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

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The Pygmalion effect is probably one of the most potent prophecies that I ever came across in my life. It changed my entire perspective on people management. A word of caution though the Pygmalion effect defies all logic.

The concept is somewhat fascinating for sure and states “what we expect from one another is what we get from one another.” So we are not accurate predictors of human behavior, in fact, we create it through our expectations.

The story of Pygmalion is rather romantic in nature. Pygmalion, the sculptor, sculpts a beautiful lady with a rock and names her Galitale. He falls desperately in love with his creation and prays for life in her. As the story goes, Galitale came to life. This story later became a play “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw and then the famed Hollywood movie “My Fair Lady.”

“Pygmalion Effect” then found space in management in the areas of coaching, mentoring, and training. The point, here again, is “what we expect from one another is 1what we get from one another.” Which means that if managers have a high expectation from their teams and they operate through emotional intelligence and active engagement they can achieve superior performance collectively.

My experience of coaching leaders in an organization also correlates with this theory. All leaders irrespective of their backgrounds created performance when they were actively engaged with their teams. The contra is also true. When leaders have little expectations from their teams; the teams tend to under-deliver.

As regards the team members, the adage here is; it does not matter what and how they are; it is all about how they are treated. Respect and warmth are bound to create a great outcome.

So the learning here is kind of interesting, if we all collectively believe that we can deliver; the entire chemistry of team interaction changes. There is an emotional commitment to winning, and it is tough to let a person down who trusts you with heart and soul.

Pygmalion effect comes into force for all ages and backgrounds. It is independent of cultures and professions. It is the fundamental essence of all human transactions. Even in our personal lives, this paradigm is always prevalent.

An experiment in a school indicates that when teachers carried no bias of students’ past performance, there was a significant increase in the way students performed. An experiment conducted in a manufacturing setup for a blue-collared workforce also showed the same outcome. In the process of coaching, the success of the coach is entirely dependent on the perception a coach carries of his protégée.

Pygmalion is a magical paradigm. I have run my work based on Pygmalion for the last seventeen years consciously and never did I have a reason to complain. Should Pygmalion be used with self, it is possible to surmount all odds in life. After all “what we expect from our own-self is what we also tend to get in life!” It is another validated interpretation of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Pygmalion effect creates positive emotional attractors which creates positive mirror responses. Reverse Pygmalion creates negative emotional attractors which creates noise in brain responses. Action the Pygmalion effect in your life. It’s worth it.

So how do we action Pygmalion at work for superior performance? Whether you are a manager or a coach, these are the simple steps to implement Pygmalion, and the orbit of performance is sure to shift.

  1. Set clear expectations: Every team must know what is expected of them. Set the task deliverables and the behaviors to achieve the task. This preparation triggers the Pygmalion effect because now there is no ambiguity of what is expected from one another. Do spend time detailing this out.
  2. Set precise measurement of expectations in form results: Numbers activate the left brain and bring clarity. Assumptions have no room once numbers are defined. Neurons in the brain now start firing with imagination and focus on certainty. Surety of numbers is an excellent definer of success for sure.
  3. Coach, coach & coach: Success is all about capabilities and transfer of knowledge. It is imperative for managers to upgrade the skill-sets of their people. Pygmalion succeeds only when the right skill sets are provided.
  4. Stakeholder feed-forward: Feedback is reflective feed-forward is preemptive. After all past behavior is an accurate predictor of future behaviors. Contain the limiting behaviors through feed-forward. It increases the possibility of success.
    State the rewards of results. Rewards are intrinsic and extrinsic. The brain starts firing neurons faster when rewards are in line with intrinsic motivators. Lack of motivation is primarily a condition where the brain sees no gain.

The above four will help you achieve results and also new behaviors will help you shift orbits of success. The point is, we do everything right except for the above five points. It’s easy to deliver performance when you have the right framework. The best part is it is fast, easy, and straightforward.

Pygmalion must become a philosophy in the workplace. Groom your managers to expect nothing but the best and see the wonders it creates. Have fun and do build great teams through the Power of The Pygmalion Effect.



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