Pygmalion Effect – means to an end ?

When a manager sets target for the team members, the expectation of the target achievement brings in certain feelings which make a team member feel that the tasks are doable and target can be easily achieved. This transaction of feelings, which results in achievement of the target is a part of the process called Pygmalion effect. As per the ancient myth, a prince from Cyprus, Pygmalion created a statue and fell in love with it. He began to pray for the statue to turn into a human. His wishes materialised one day the and statue became real.

This principle is relevant to every situation where a manager governs the feeling of self- efficacy of the team members through words. It can be positive to ensure the team achieves, at times negative to reprimand the team member to bring in a change in their behaviour. A team that is dependent on the reporting leader’s feedback can get very dependent on tactics like this, hence impede growth in the long term.

Dan Pallotta in Stop Comparing Yourself with Steve Jobs , stresses on this stage. He clearly shares that, though it is normal and obvious to be inspirited by an achiever and use the facts from the achiever’s life to build one’s own. It is equally devastating when the individual constantly uses the inspiration to reinstate the fact , that the land marks imagined earlier are impossible to achieve hence create a negative dialogue . These negative conversation with oneself, completely demolish the self-efficacy. The worst effect of such idolisation is the loss of individuality. In the quest for becoming the leader, the individual may end up living sub-optimally.

Hence to draw a balance to the two, this is how we can implement it. We start with identification of the unique talent in the individuals . Thereafter we groom the unique talent. We may use landmarks to guide them and help the talent learn. But make sure we set a balance and draw a line where the individual can see the difference between the icon and the self and focus inwards to achieve its goals. For an e.g.: In a sales team, the manager may use the targets achieved by the high performers as an example to motivate the average and low performers. This would a direct implementation of the Pygmalion effect. But when the manager identifies the route to success and shares the knowhow of the high performer with the team. He further identifies the capabilities in the team members to contribute in the value chain and allocates specific tasks accordingly .He builds in self- efficacy and promotes individual achievement rather than idolising the top performer.

This is strategy used by the industry leaders to manage employees during the merger and acquisition. The employees initially may be in awe of the other company with which the merger is taking place. No sooner or later, they start showing resistant to the changes while integration. The reason to the resistance is fear of loss of identity. At this point of time, the leaders use the individuality and draw parallels yet create environment where every employee can survive. They create a mantra out of the vox populi to imbibe everyone’s beliefs towards the new entity. For eg : Company A may have an entrepreneurial culture , whereas the company B have a bureaucratic environment . The employees in both the company would show resistance towards each other’s culture. Hence the leaders would then pick the contributing factors from both the environment to create the new one. They may build geographically based centres, wherein the centralised the decision making and decentralise the implementation. They may create certain levy in the decision making to adjust the individuality of the centres .

Finally we conclude that the insipiration is required for guidance for the individual to become and find himself. This brings us to the powerfull reflections from the words of Johanne Wolfgang von Gerte, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he shall become as he can and should be.” . Thus Pygmalion effect is the road to success not the destination.

  • S. Nayak

    Really interesting reading. Some parallels come to mind from the Indian perspective of Management. Terms such as ‘svabhava’ and ‘svadharma’ have these values for the individual and also for larger collectives. Everyone has a particular ‘nature’, behavioural pattern, skills -this is ‘svabhava’ – essence of a person/thing / collective. One has to identify it and build on that. When a person is able to channelise his/her set of talents, skills to achieve a target, a goal of the collective it is called ‘svadharma’.

  • Great article. Very thought provoking.

    Majority of the work population rely on and are distorted with stereotypes. Why? This is a huge discussion.

    However, as you suggested, leaders play a big role in structurally helping team players overcome their fear and to discover their individuality, at least in context of the objective.

  • hello sir,
    i read ur article and it is very intersting. i would like to work with u on this topic. i am doing a research work on the same topic,
    so, kindly consider it.
    regards
    manish