Have you ever heard of the Pygmalion Effect? The term was coined by J. Sterling Livingston in a 1969 article regarding how the expectations a leader has of their people directly affects their performance.
We see this commonly with children in schools. There are many examples of teachers expecting certain children to behave in certain ways and then the children’s behavior confirming their expectations. Except sadly, studies have shown that in many cases it is the teachers’ expectations that are the driving factor, not the reverse. There is a reason many parents clamor to have their children be placed into talented and gifted programs, or into STEM programs and then later marvel at how brilliant their child is or how strong their aptitude for math or engineering is. The expectation in those programs is that the children will perform at a high level. If a child struggles or has some behavioral issues, they are often given additional positive attention to assist them because the goal is to help them to live up to their potential. And the inverse also plays out daily in schools across the country. Those children who are labeled as not as bright, or troublemakers often live up (or down) to the role they have been relegated to and the expectation is reinforced through remedial classes or a spiral of disciplinary actions. Children are remarkably susceptible to the expectations those around them, particularly those in authority, project onto them. But have you considered that the same is true for adults?
In the book Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, Babin describes a situation where the consistently last place boat crew in a Navy SEAL training exercise became the first-place crew with the singular change of putting a different leader in charge of the crew. None of the members were any different, but the new leader had dramatically different expectations of how well they could perform. Perhaps not as dramatic as moving from last to first in Navy SEAL training, but in offices and workplaces across the country, people are living into the expectations that their employers have of them, to the betterment or to the detriment of the organization.
What about you? Have you ever found yourself to be underperforming and not sure why? Do you sometimes feel like you are capable of doing and achieving at a much higher level but not feeling the motivation or drive to do so? Perhaps you should take a closer look at the expectations of those you are surrounded by. Do you feel a desire to live up to the high expectations others have of you or are you and those around you satisfied with the status quo. If you are surrounded by those with low expectations, how are they affecting the way you perceive yourself?
In one of my favorite leadership books, Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman, Wiseman describes the perspective of leaders who are multipliers. “To their eyes their organization is full of talented people who are capable of contributing at much higher levels.” She goes on to describe how these leaders are not “feel-good” types of managers, rather they are hard edged and expect great things from their people. In turn, their people hold them in high regard and are driven to succeed at a high level.
I believe that internal to each of us is a desire to live up to a higher standard and to continue to grow and improve. I also believe it is incumbent on us to expect the best of others. Stay aware of both sides of these expectations and strive to create an environment for you and for others where the basic expectation is conducive to betterment.
If you are interested in discovering ways to create an organizational environment conducive to growth and optimization, reach out to us today for a free initial consultation. firstname.lastname@example.org