What Is the Pygmalion Effect and Why Is It the Key to Growth?

Getting the most from people to get unstuck

Understanding the Pygmalion Effect will help you grow your business by shaping the way you manage. However, it’s not a management or leadership style. It’s a theory that puts you in the mindset to lead more effectively and get the best from your employees, contractors, and even your network.

If you’re suffering from getting in your own way, this is the theory that could transform your business.

What is getting in your own way?

As an entrepreneur, you are probably used to doing most things yourself. You find it hard to let go, and difficult to trust others to do what it is that you do. Consequently, you end up doing even the things you hate to do, and the things that, quite frankly, you’re not that good at.

You get in your own way.

As Ken Andrukow explains, “Standing in your own way looks like spending 80% of your time doing things you’re not very good at and things that you don’t like to do.

The result is:

  • You become bored and frustrated more easily

  • You spend more time doing things, and that devalues your time

  • You do things less well than is needed

  • You destroy the time you should be spending on yourself and growing your business

As we saw when we discussed working smarter to improve your quality of life, you get stuck by working harder. 

Vroom’s expectancy theory crafts a relationship between the effort you put into doing something and your performance doing it, to the motivation to do what it is you’re doing. The Pygmalion Effect extends this to the performance of others, by crafting a relationship between their performance and your expectations of them.

What is the Pygmalion Effect?

So, what is this relationship between expectation and performance?

The Harvard Business School says, ‘The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they expect of them. If managers’ expectations are high, productivity is likely to be excellent. If their expectations are low, productivity is likely to be poor.

Is this true?

Consider a time when you’ve been told that something is not achievable, or that you don’t have the skills to do a specific task well. Now consider the effort and enthusiasm with which you approached that task. 

While some people are motivated by the desire to prove others wrong, most people would say that where expectations of them are low, there is little point in expending energy and effort on a task set for them.

How does your experience influence how you feel about others?

If ‘to do a job well, do it yourself’ is a mantra of yours, what you are really telling yourself is that no one can do a task as well as you do. In other words, your expectations of others are blurred by your own abilities and aptitudes. 

When this happens, you put yourself in a negative mindset. Worse, you continue to do jobs that you shouldn’t be doing. That’s going to stop you growing your business. Worst of all, you expect others to fail – that’s demotivating and not the way to encourage people to produce their best work.

Expect people to succeed and you will lead them to success

Your expectation of others changes the way you treat them. If you expect a person to succeed, you’ll provide more autonomy, listen more intently to feedback, and offer challenging work that is engaging and helps others develop.

When you expect good things from people, they generally reward you and deliver to your expectations.

Putting the Pygmalion Effect into action

It’s hard to let go and get out of the way. Your business is your baby, and the buck stops with you. To grow your business, though, you must guide it. Spend more time on your business than you do in your business.

Key to letting go is getting others to do more. Put the Pygmalion Effect into action by taking these steps.

Step #1: Understand that you aren’t always the best person for the job

Whatever your business, there will be tasks that must be done but that you aren’t best placed to do them. Sure, you want to make sure that everything is done just so, but doing it all yourself will destroy the most precious commodity you have – time.

Is it easy to let go? Sure, it is. When was the last time you serviced your car, or installed a boiler in your home, or cut your own hair?

Understand that we all have unique skills and abilities, and other people are often a better delegation to do things in your business that must be done – so that you can spend more time on it, not in it.

Step #2: Find the skills you need to let go

Your network can have the power to provide the skills you need to let go. If you want to stay motivated, then develop a positive network. Your current one may not contain what you need.

It takes effort to develop a positive professional network. Here are a few tips to set your networking goals:

  • Understand who are the people you want to attract into it

  • Define the skills they must have

  • List the benefits that you want to gain from your network

  • Plan where to network – local trade associations or online, for example – and what tools are needed to network successfully

  • Make time to network, and do so with intent

  • Nurture your network

Step #3: Test your people

Provide small projects that test abilities. Show that you expect good results by phrasing requests by saying things like, “I’m certain you’ll be good at this. It’s a little more challenging than your last project, but you have the skills in your toolbox.”

Step #4: Provide positive feedback

Be positive when providing feedback. Offer help where results aren’t quite up to standard, give praise when they are. If results exceed your expectations, reward exceptional performance.

Step #5: Rinse and repeat

Continue to build your network, release tasks that you shouldn’t be doing, and engage the best people to do them.

Use the Pygmalion Effect to your advantage

By motivating your employees and others to be at their most productive, you will benefit personally and professionally. You’ll free your time to spend on the things that you are best at, and the activities you want to do. 

When you get the most from people, your business will be better placed with you at the helm rather than pulling the oars.

Are you stuck in your business? Is what you are doing stopping your business from growing? Connect with Level 5 Mentors. Your first step in making the Pygmalion Effect work for you.


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