What is Pygmalion Effect on Leadership Understanding the myth

Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion effect helps you think about how your expectations of your employees can influence or motivate their performance.

Robert Rosenthal, one of the leading researchers on the subject, defines the Pygmalion effect as “ the phenomenon by which one person’s expectation of another person’s behavior comes to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy ”.

In his research, Rosenthal analyzed how teachers’ expectations influence student performance. He demonstrated that students whose teachers have lower expectations generally perform worse when compared to students whose teachers maintain high expectations.

Rosenthal argues that “ when we expect certain behaviors from other people, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur ”.

While the Pygmalion effect was discovered in an educational context, numerous studies have proven that it applies to all types of settings, from sports teams to the military, including the workplace.

Understanding the myth of the Pygmalion

The myth narrated by the Roman poet Ovid tells the story of Pygmalion, a sculptor and king of the island of Cyprus, who was not married. According to the author, Pygmalion decided to live in celibacy on the island because he did not agree with the behavior of women in the region.

Determined to keep his promise, Pygmalion devoted himself even more to the art of sculpting.

It was then that he decided to create a statue that would represent the ideal woman, according to his vision.

Once completed, the artist was delighted with his creation, believing it to be the best work he had ever done.

The problem was that, amid so much admiration, Pygmalion fell in love with the statue, which he named Galatea.

He treated her as if she were “flesh and blood”: he gave her gifts, caressed her, dressed her in clothes and jewelry, and even went so far as to marry her.

However, his “beloved wife” was only ivory, cold and lifeless, which condemned Pygmalion to a deep sadness.

Aphrodite felt sorry for the artist and granted him his wish to transform the statue into a woman of flesh and blood, whom Pygmalion married and had a daughter.

Pygmalion managed, through the most diverse factors, for the statue to become a real woman by depositing great expectations in this cause.

Although somewhat macabre, the myth presents a very interesting element of human behavior that has been studied extensively by psychologists.

How the Pygmalion Effect Impacts Leadership

As a manager, your goal is to get the best performance out of the people you work with.

So, if you hold high expectations of your team members, you can increase their motivation and efforts according to the Pygmalion effect.

On the other hand, if you convey lower expectations, it can undermine your efforts and worsen your performance.

We often demonstrate our low expectations unconsciously by delegating less challenging and interesting work, not following through on work, and giving less support and praise.

By keeping expectations low we can create a vicious circle where we expect less, we get less, we lower expectations which leads us to expect less , and so on. The result of this vicious circle is low performance and demotivation.

The good news is that the opposite is also true. By setting and communicating higher expectations we can create a virtuous circle where we expect more, get more, raise expectations and expect more, and so on. The consequence of the virtuous circle is the continuous improvement of performance.

What exactly is the Pygmalion effect in children?

The expectations that an adult has about their child’s abilities will affect the way the child sees himself, that is, he will see how he is seen : if expectations are low, he will consider himself incapable, and if they are high, he will feel more motivated.

The truth is that children are capable of subconsciously feeling the way we see them. Eye contact and the way we address them reveal a lot about ourselves and how we see them. The child will learn from this type of relationship and, therefore, as adults, we must show ourselves in a natural and transparent way.

Thus, it is absolutely useless to say that we believe in the child if we do not then accompany the words with gestures or with the voice . They are very sensitive and will pay much more attention to how things are said and how feelings are expressed, rather than what is literally said.

As parents, we must use emotional intelligence  to support our children , and the best method for this to be effective is by using active listening and interacting with them so that they feel valued, both with our words and with our gestures. It is important that we take them into account when expressing their opinions. Self-esteem is essential for them to grow up with a positive opinion of themselves.

The term Pygmalion derives from a Greek myth that tells the story of a homonymous character who fell in love with a statue created by himself: Galatea, who ended up becoming a real woman. In general terms, the Pygmalion effect sums up the belief in the power that some important people have at the moment to influence others , especially in their income. This influence, however, can be positive or negative.

While a positive Pygmalion effect generates an increase in self-esteem and confidence in the child, a negative one will have a completely different effect . In order for the effect we create on them to be as positive as possible, we must also accept them as they are and encourage and enhance all their innate skills and abilities so that they themselves find and know their talents and bet on them. .

In the same way, as parents or teachers, we must congratulate the little ones for their successes and be able to explain to them why they sometimes fail, whether at school, sport or social level. All this trust is forged by spending time with them and establishing a basis for dialogue and trust that will contribute to the Pygmalion effect being positive , and so that in their adolescence they are able to face problems with more confidence and strength. We must not forget that as adults we have an incredible power of influence on the little ones!

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