Greek Mythology Meets “King of the Hill” and the Business World

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February 19, 2015 by Rick B

What do Greek mythology; the movie, Pretty Woman; the musical, My Fair Lady; Aerosmith’s music video, Hole in My Soul; and dedicated episodes of TV series Will and Grace and King of the Hill have in common? If you said Pygmalion you win a gold star.

According to the Greek myth, Pygmalion was a sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory and then fell in love with the beautiful statue. Aphrodite answered Pygmalion’s prayers and brought the statue to life.

This story, or its essence, has been recreated many times as the list above testifies, but how does this relate to the business world? A study by Rosenthal and Jacobsen in 1968 coined the phrase “Pygmalion Effect” and defined it as a psychological principle where if you think something will happen, you may unconsciously make it happen through your actions or inactions, a type of self–fulfilling prophecy.

This can be seen in business when a manager raises his or her expectations for the performance of a team member and it actually results in an increase in that team members performance. Research has clearly established that employees have a greater level of success when their manager expects more of them. A manager’s belief in an individual tends to boost that individual’s own belief in their ability to perform the actions necessary for success.

You have to be careful, because this works both ways. If you have low expectations, you could be hurting performance by negatively impacting an individual’s belief in themselves. This may have been summarized best by Henry Ford when he said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

How can you effectively add the Pygmalion effect as another tool in your leadership tool kit? Here are a few ideas:

Set clear expectation for performance, making sure to be realistic. Don’t make your expectations so difficult they can’t be achieved, but not so easy that they can perform below their ability and meet expectations.
Match skills with responsibilities. Putting someone into a position they simply are not qualified for will frustrate them and cause them to fail. On the flip side, putting someone into a position that is below their ability will also frustrate them and limit their ability to perform to their potential.
Provide consistent/frequent constructive feedback: Let individuals know how they are doing, help them if they are struggling by providing additional training or guidance to get them through tough times, and maintain your belief in their ability to do the task at hand.
Stretch it. By setting goals that are realistic and obtainable sends a message that you believe this can be accomplished.

Used correctly, this approach can assist others reach their potential, which at the end of the day benefits all.

Rick Brammer is president and co-owner of United Credit Service, Inc.

Founded in 1950, United Credit Service, Inc. is a full service, licensed revenue cycle management and debt collection agency in Wisconsin providing effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Visit our website at or call 877-723-2902.


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