Expecting Greatness Results in Greatness
In 1964, Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal went to an elementary school in California and received permission to have the children take a new IQ test. In the results, Rosenthal came up with a list of children who were scheduled to “bloom” as a result of their intelligence.
It was a lie. The children were selected at random.
However, the astounding results were that the purported “blooming” children did in fact make dramatic gains in IQ and performance. What seemed to make the difference was that the teachers believed the results and treated the children as if they had a special advantage. The children responded to that belief.
So began a phenomenon known as The Pygmalion Effect.
Despite backlash and fierce criticism, some 5 decades later, many scientists have documented results in homes, schools, businesses and military training facilities. It appears that when managers have high expectations for workers, they respond in kind. When training officers believe solders have high skill levels, they respond in kind.
It appears that when managers have high expectations for workers, they respond in kind.
Katherine Ellison, writing in the December issue of Discover magazine reports that Christine Rubie-Davies and her Teacher Expectation Project in Auckland, New Zealand spent two years instructing educators in the nonverbal techniques that signify high expectations. Such nonverbals included a fixed gaze, head nods, smiles, and signs of active listening. She found that “students taught by the high-expectations group made significant gains in math compared with the control group.”
In short, the students responded to the positive signals and rose to the teachers’ level of expectation. Now, imagine what would happen in an organization if leaders worked by the same theory of expectation.
The challenge: it also means overcoming biases, prejudices, and pre-conceived notions such as gender, ethnicity, and background. How can a leader have high expectations of others if she pigeon-holes them into a category?
How can a leader have high expectations of others if she pigeon-holes them into a category?
Mattel, maker of Barbie, has actually made a commercial about what would happen if girls dreamt of what they really could do. To be sure, it might be a mea culpa for the decades of giving girls a Barbie that is vapid, shops until she drops, drives fancy cars, and has a figure made possible only by molded plastic.
Imagine the energy created when employees feel that a leader holds them in high regard, expecting their personal best. What makes this even stronger is if leaders put into practice the tools that Shawn Murphy suggests in his new book, The Optimistic Workplace. Specifically, high expectations become rich with possibility when aligned with each one’s sense of meaning and purpose — a purpose beyond profit.
If it sounds too good to be true, purchase a copy of Murphy’s book and read the many examples of optimistic workplaces. They flourish because good work is the expectation of all.
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