Pygmalion and leadership

13 Aug

Some years ago G. B. Shaw wrote a play entitled Pygmalion about a flower girl on the streets of London who is transformed into a lady by learning how to speak, act and dress.  Eliza Doolittle falls for Henry Higgins and near the end of the play says to Colonel Pickering,  “Colonel, you think of me as a lady, treat me like a lady and around you I behave like a lady.  But Henry Higgins thinks of me as a flower girl, treats me like a flower girl and around him I behave like a flower girl.”

Behavioral researchers call this the Pygmalion Effect. This is a powerful management and leadership principle and it works two ways.  It can enhance or reduce performance and is driven by self-fulfilling prophecies.  In many ways we communicate either our high or low expectations to others and these influence their behavior.  Ask yourself, what expectations am I communicating to those around me?

For an excellent in-depth review of this important leadership process go to the Harvard Business Review.



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