Jun 28, 2006

Pygmalion Effect aka 'The Self Fulfilling Prophecy'

The term ‘Pygmalion Effect’ comes from the play by the same name, penned by none other than the great GBS. A refreshing tale of a flower girl being transformed into a sophisticated lady, by a Professor who keeps reinforcing the idea that she can be a lady if she wants to be. The story is a testimony to the fact that people become what they are told.

If you tell a person he is great, he starts feeling great. If you tell a person he is stupid, he may not start feeling stupid, but he definitely feels bad. The idea is that if you keep telling a person a lie often enough, he starts believing it to be true. So, it follows that people are not good or bad by themselves, but are made so by other people’s opinions.

Time and again, it has been proved by so many management thinkers and leaders that if you give people a task and set high expectations, they will perform out of their skins to prove you right. But, if you tell the same people that they are useless, good for nothing bastards, chances are that they’ll prove you right again.

Ideally, a person should be given a chance to prove himself. His mentors should have the patience to help him work his way through a mess. The true test of a leader is to make ordinary people do extra ordinary things.

We all learn about motivation, leadership, teamwork… We debate in class about leaders vs. managers, and how leaders have a vision and are able to gather people around them, while managers merely implement policies and look after routine activities. We read inspirational stories of leaders who pulled together people and achieved the impossible. We read cases of business turnarounds, where the plant, technology, product, everything remained the same, but the management changed, and the people changed. We feel good reading the stuff.

But, when it comes to real life, it is so much easier to write people off. To tell them that they are not good enough. To push them off from a cliff into the abyss of non-performance, and forget their existence. After all, we are busy attending to our own problems.

So, how do you handle a person who is shirking work? Do you tell him that he needs to pull up his socks? Do you fire him saying he is good for nothing? Do you just leave him be and hope that he will realize his folly?

There are no easy answers…

Ok, how would YOU like to be treated if you are the one facing the music, and other people sit in judgment on you?

Now, the answer seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?


  1. i agree buddy... somebody needs to put a pygmalion effect on the bosses too... a noilamgyp effect is the need of the day... :)

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