Motivation and The Pygmalion Effect

Motivation and The Pygmalion Effect

pygmalion effect

How you communicate with your staff can have a dramatic impact on how your staff behave. This is often not communicated just through the words you choose to use but through tone, your body language and your approach.

Managers, Directors and Organisational Leaders understandably have an influence on the success of employees, and can play a part in that success or failure, at times, without even realising it. Expectation is a powerful belief which can affect the giver and receiver, so it’s important to ensure your expectations are positive in nature.

“The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon in which people, often children or students and employees, tend to perform according to the expectations placed upon them. The effect is named after Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw.”

Source: Wikipedia/PygmalionEffect

When a member of staff is encouraged, feels supported and motivated they are more likely to believe in their own ability simply because you have conveyed those attributes..

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

When Lenore Jacobson wrote to Robert Rosenthal about his published paper in “American Scientist” it started a collaboration which lead to a study at her school which led to the publication of their book “Pygmalion in the Classroom” (1968).

What you believe matters. If you limit your belief in others then you limit their potential.

The main idea concerning the Pygmalion Effect is that if you believe that someone is capable of achieving greatness, then that person will indeed achieve greatness. In other words, simply believing in potential, creates potential.







Nine times out of ten, people limit their own performance because of low self-belief. Your best performers will have a strong self-belief underpinned by technical competence. That ‘knowing feeling’ in their own abilities means they will consistently exceed expectations.

As a manager or leader you have a role in developing self-belief in others.



The Pygmalion effect enables staff to excel in response to the manager’s message that they are capable of success and expected to succeed. The Pygmalion effect can also undermine staff performance if the communication from the manager tells them the opposite. These cues are often subtle. For example, the manager fails to praise a direct report’s performance as frequently as they praise others.

Can you imagine how performance will improve if all the managers in your organisation communicated positive thoughts about people to people? If the manager actually believes that every employee has the ability to make a positive contribution at work, the impact of that message, either consciously or unconsciously, will positively affect employee performance.

And, the influence of the manager gets even better than this. When the manager holds positive expectations about people, she helps individuals improve their self-concept and thus, self-esteem. If people believe they can succeed and contribute, their performance rises to the level of their own expectations.

When an organisational leader or manager encourages employees through motivational behaviour to believe in themselves, the skies the limit. The ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ takes effect in part because your positive approach and attitude towards that employee has bolstered their self belief, and in turn creates a confidence in their ability and expectations; with this comes improved performance.

Q: Have you applied pygmalion techniques in your role as a manager or team leader, and how has that improved individual or team performance for you? Please share your views by leaving a comment.