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The Pygmalion Effect

Updated on November 13, 2009

We Need Leaders Today

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

English novelist (1812 – 1870)


How do you see your employees?
How do you see your employees?

The Power of Positive Thinking

This is my fourth recession.

Is this the worst it’s been since the “Great Depression?” Honestly, I don’t remember the others. Of course, at sixty-one, I don’t remember a lot of things anymore…but I do remember this: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

It’s hard to think positive when you lose your job; you’re struggling to pay the bills; your house is teetering on foreclosure; and the banks keep raising the interest rates on your credit cards; sucking even more money out of your disposable income, so “they can continue to make money available to their customers” (that’s the excuse they used on the last notice I received).

Which customers are they talking about? Obviously not me, they’ve reduced all my credit limits to zero. I’ve switched to store brands, they’re making billions; and laughing all the way to the bank…wait a minute, they are the bank.

Yes, it’s hard to be positive today…but if you manage people, you don’t have a choice (okay you always have a choice). But how you manage people today will determine in large part if you have people to manage tomorrow. I don’t mean they’ll quit (although they might) or you’ll get fired (although you might); I mean whether your business will still be in business tomorrow.

Your staff will emulate you. If you’re down, they’re down. If they’re down, they’re not working. If they’re not working, you’re out of business. To simplify, “If you’re’re out of business.”

“Management is the act of handling or controlling something successfully.” Successful businesses require successful people. Successful people are positive people…even in the worst situations.

If you’re not familiar with Pygmalion, he was purported to be a Cypriot sculptor in Greek mythology that fell in love with a statue. He hope, wished, and prayed for the statue to become real.  Because he was so sincere in his request, Aphrodite turned the statue into a living being.  It became known as the “self-fulfilling prophesy.” If you believe something to be real long enough and hard enough, it will become real…The Power of Positive Thinking.

George Bernard Shaw turned the Pygmalion myth into a Broadway play. You probably remember Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Professor Henry Higgins took a street waif (Eliza Doolittle) and turned her into a lady. For you younger people, think Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook in “She’s All That.” The BMOC jock who said he could turn any girl into a Prom Queen. If you’re really young, think “Ugly Duckling.”

As managers, it is your responsibility to motivate your people to excel…thus ensuring the success of the business.

If you think an employee will fail…rest assured he (or she) will fail. You will not give them (consciously or sub-consciously) the help and support they need to succeed.

I’m not saying you will physically abuse or berate them…you will probably be very cordial towards them, but it will be exclusionary. Their questions will be answered in short sharp retorts. You won’t take them to lunch or even have a friendly conversation. You won’t ask them how they are or how the family is dong. You won’t get to know them, because in your mind they won’t be around long enough. They will never feel apart of the team. Nor will you give them the attention they need or the approval they crave…even when they do well.

Ultimately they will fail or leave…and you will say, “See I told you they would.” When in fact, it was a “self-fulfilling prophesy.” You knew they would fail (or leave) and they did…not because of any failure on their part, but because you never gave them a chance to succeed.

It’s called The Pygmalion Effect. What you think and feel about your employees or staff will determine in large part the success or failure of them…and you.

Motivating your employees is not a luxury for managers, it’s your job. When they’re successful, you’re successful…remember the definition of management, “Handling or controlling things successfully?”

If your business (or department) is struggling, don’t blame your employees. A fish rots from the head down. If your business is in trouble (or failing), check the attitude of your leaders (or leadership).

Are you thinking positive thoughts or mired in negativity?

Are you encouraging your people or discouraging them?

The Pygmalion Effect works both ways. Positive thinking brings about positive results. Negative thinking promotes negative results.

Not into Greek Mythology or New Age Thinking? How about this, “You will reap what you sow.”

Ray Evans

“Salvation is not a change in the way you act…it’s a change in the way you think, that manifests itself in the way you act.” Ray Evans, “Preparing For The Worst.”


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    • profile image

      Mischa Wilde 6 years ago

      very good and informative article. The Pygmalion Effect is indeed quite fascinating.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 8 years ago from Australia

      Nice- sensible hub...

      "They will never feel apart of the team."

      Do you mean either

      "They will never feel a part of the team."


      "They will never feel part of the team." ?