The Pygmalion and Golem effects are two psychological phenomenon. They say that a leaders expectation of an individual’s performance affects that individuals performance. If leaders have high expectations, people raise their performances to meet those expectations (Pygmalion). If leaders have low expectations, people lower their performances to meet those expectations (Golem).

Summary by The World of Work Project

The Pygmalion and Golem Effects

The Pygmalion (or Rosenthal) effect is a phenomenon whereby a leader’s expectations of an employee’s performance impacts that individual’s performance.

The name stems from the mythological Greek sculptor, Pygmalion, who carved a women and fell so in love with it that she came to life. Just as Pygmalion brought his statue to life, leaders can bring the individuals in their teams to life through belief and expectation.

diagram showing The Pygmalion and Golem Effects in action

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Where a leader’s expectations are high, workers perform better, regardless of their base ability. Similarly, where a leader’s expectations are low, workers perform worse, regardless of their base abilities.

In other words, individuals live up to the expectations others have of them. The name “Golem Effect” is sometimes given to the fact that low expectations can cause low performance.

Learning More

The world of work is full of psychological phenomena like this. At the world of work project we think that developing self awareness helps us develop a stronger understanding of what shapes our behaviors and performance. In addition we think that developing emotional intelligence, meta-cognition and meta-emotion is helpful. As is learning about cognitive biases, so we can spot the ways we fall into these common thinking traps.

The World of Work Project View

The research which led to The Pygmalion and Golem Effects stems from the world of education. In the world of education it’s important to ensure that everyone has an equal chance of success regardless of their backgrounds. This is particularly important if, as a society, we are to progress social integration and social mobility.

Though there have been some challenges to the research undertaken in determining this effect, our view is that the concept remains valid. In the workplace, the level of expectation that leaders have of their employees does affect the performance of those employees. In part this is because the level of expectations that leaders have affects how they act and behave around those employees. It affects their interactions, trust, delegation and definitions of success.

In the words of Robert Rosenthal, who did the original research on this subject, the expectation that one has of another person’s performance ”comes to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy”. In our view, one of the best way to help the individuals in your team to achieve high levels of performance is to believe that they can do so.

As a side note on The Pygmalion and Golem Effects, there’s an interesting phenomenon where Chinese children born in the year of the Dragon, the most auspicious of years, are generally more successful than children born in other years. Research suggests that this is do to the increased expectations of these children.

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This post is based on original work by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson. You can read more in their book: “Pygmalion in the classroom : teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development”.

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