South-Western - Management  
High Expectations Boost Performance
Topic Leadership
Key Words Pygmalion Effect, Expectations
InfoTrac Reference A119225353
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News Story

George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" tells the story of Professor Higgins betting that he could take a Cockney flower girl and train her to pass as a duchess. Because of Professor Higgins' high regard for the girl's abilities and his intention that she would succeed, her transformation is a success. And when she acquires the traits of a duchess, others treat her accordingly.

Another famous example of setting high expectations involves a welding teacher who was told that his incoming class had exceptional aptitude and ability, even though they had been randomly selected, like all of his other classes. Because of the higher expectations the welding teacher had, these students excelled. They learned faster and performed better than any of his other classes. He unintentionally sent them signals that they were special by praising them more often, withholding criticism, and expecting superior performance.

The key message from these examples is that leaders have a profound impact on the performance of others, whether they are aware of it or not. People tend to perform like we think they should. If expectations are high, people tend to stretch to meet those expectations. When expectations are low, for whatever reason, the message is received and they perform as anticipated. Leaders can use the power of positive expectations to drive superior performance.


What is the Pygmalion Effect and what are some examples of that effect in action?


Give an example of an occasion when someone had high expectations for your performance. Did it impact your ability to achieve? Why or why not?


The article stresses that expectations can be delivered consciously or subconsciously. What are some ways that leaders communicate their expectations (high or low)?

Source "High Expectations Boost Performance." Wenatchee Business Journal, July 2004, pC6(2).
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