In the early years of my career, when I was training to becoming a certified coach, I learned about The Pygmalion effect. How it can be particularly impactful in coaching and leadership settings, as it emphasizes the importance of positive expectations and belief in others. By fostering a supportive and empowering environment, it is possible to help individuals overcome self-doubt, tap into their strengths, and unlock their true potential. This was a defining moment in my career, and it is my backbone as a professional coach and owner of Female Leadership.
The Pygmalion effect, also known as the self-fulfilling prophecy, is a psychological phenomenon that explores how our beliefs and expectations about others can influence their performance and behavior. It was named after the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with his own creation, so much that the perfectly beautiful statue he created came to life. It is a powerful concept that can have a significant impact on our personal and professional relationships. When leaders have higher expectations of some of their peoples' performance, they tend to learn and perform better. This effect occurs because people often internalize and live up to the expectations set for them.
When we hold positive expectations about someone's abilities, intelligence, or potential, they tend to internalize those expectations and develop a more positive self-perception. This, in turn, can lead to improved performance and increased motivation. For example, in the field of education, the Rosenthal and Jacobson study (also known as the 'Pygmalion in the Classroom' study) demonstrated the power of positive expectations. Teachers were told that certain students were 'late bloomers' and were expected to show significant academic growth. As a result, these students demonstrated greater improvement compared to their peers, simply because their teachers believed in their potential.
When I was working in an organization, I loved collaborating with a specific leader. When we had the opportunity to facilitate trainings together, we were praised for our facilitation, energy and being in sync. Participants always told us the same thing: ‘You must have rehearsed for a long time'. Which we never had due to time restriction. Why did we always succeed?
We always had high expectations and belief in each other’s potential and capabilities as facilitators. We had each other’s back. The trust we had in each other made us a strong, effective, and successful partnership that the participants felt included in. Today we have both left the organization and have developed a close friendship on the enduring bond that was formed through the shared belief in each other's capabilities. The Pygmalion effect can positively influence collaboration and performance. It showcases the power of belief, trust, and support in bringing out the best in individuals and creating successful partnerships.
To ensure that everyone has an opportunity to make a difference, we must actively promote inclusivity and equal access to resources and opportunities. This involves creating a level playing field where individuals from all backgrounds, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or other factors, have the chance to contribute and succeed. By removing barriers, providing mentorship, sponsorship, coaching, training and offering support, we can foster an environment that values and harnesses the potential of all individuals.
Here are some ideas about how to deal with the Pygmalion effect:
Positive expectations: When we hold positive expectations about someone's abilities, intelligence, or potential, they tend to internalize those expectations and develop a more positive self-perception. This, in turn, can lead to improved performance and increased motivation.
Feedback and support: The Pygmalion effect emphasizes the importance of providing constructive feedback and support that reinforces positive expectations. When individuals receive feedback that highlights their strengths and how to use them in areas for improvement, it helps shape their self-perception and motivates them to strive for higher levels of performance. For instance, in a workplace setting, a manager who consistently provides feedback that focuses on an employee's growth and potential can inspire them to exceed expectations and achieve greater success.
Self-fulfilling prophecy: The Pygmalion effect operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy, meaning that our beliefs and expectations about others can influence their behavior in a way that aligns with those expectations. When we believe in someone's abilities, we tend to treat them differently, offer more opportunities, and provide greater support, which can lead to improved performance. An example of this can be seen in sports, where coaches who have high expectations for their athletes often push them to achieve more, resulting in enhanced performance and success.
These core principles of the Pygmalion effect highlight the profound influence that our beliefs and expectations can have on others. By understanding and leveraging this effect, we can create environments that foster growth, empower individuals, and help them achieve their full potential.