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  • Writer's pictureAnushruti

Pygmalion or Golem! What is your boss like?

The Pygmalion effect stems from the story of Pygmalion, a mythical Greek Sculptor who carved a statue of a woman and then became enamored with it. He then appealed to Aphrodite, the goddess of love to help him. She answered his prayers and brought the statue to life. And Pygmalion achieved what seemed impossible before. The Pygmalion effect is described as a psychological phenomenon wherein high expectations lead to improved performance in the given area.

The flip-side to this is the Golem effect, wherein low expectations lead to decreased performance. This effect is named after the Golem, a clay creature who according to the Jewish mythology was given life by Rabbi Loew of Prague. According to the legend, the golem was originally created to protect the Jews of Prague but, over time, the golem grew more and more corrupt to the point of spiraling violently out of control and had to be destroyed.

The idea the stories try to promote is that just as Pygmalion’s fixation on the statue brought it to life, our focus on a belief or assumption can work wonders and make it true. Similarly, low expectations can be a direct contributor to our under achievement. And this is true not just for our expectations for ourselves but also the expectations that come from others. It is believed that the effect manifests in the same way in both the cases.

Extending this theory to the workplace, we see that managers play a vital role in the performance of their team. Whether they inspire the team or shatter their confidence is their call. If the expectations are low, the productivity is likely to be poor irrespective of the base abilities and if the expectations are high, the productivity is likely to be better irrespective of the base abilities. And it is important to understand that the expectations being talked about here are not the annual goals set and communicated, but the subtle hints that the manager keeps on dropping on a daily basis (knowingly or unknowingly) through their behavior - about what they are expecting of their team!

As individuals, we are influenced by our environment, and our thought process and reality can be manipulated by the presence of others. Similarly, employees are heavily influenced by their workplace environment. They are therefore likely to perceive their capabilities as described or expected by others. Thus, managers by the expectation they portray- can greatly cause the subordinates performance to rise or fall.

A good manager might take cognizance of the fact and invest in inspiring and motivating the team. They are likely to facilitate changes in behavior, by giving some employees more responsibility or by setting stretch goals. If a manager feels an employee is competent, he will treat the employee as such. Manager is likely to give that employee more opportunities to develop his competence, and his performance improves in a positive feedback loop. This works both ways. If an employee expects a superior to be competent, he tends to be more attentive and supportive. As a result it tends to bolster the employee’s performance.

Understanding that knowingly or unknowingly managers tend to nudge their subordinates towards success or failure, we realize that they have a secret weapon at their disposal. By altering their behavior they have the power to raise the standards of their team or vice versa. Thus it is just a choice- To be the Pygmalion or Golem!

After all, strong beliefs turn into reality.

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