Monday, November 26, 2012

Are you a believer - in their potential?

It seemed fitting to be in the beautiful city of Florence last week to help a group of leaders translate the lessons gained from observing a champion fencer and her coach in a performance setting, into their own leadership context.

One of the things we reflected on was the importance of the coach’s belief in her potential.

Indeed how can you help someone extend beyond the limits of their own conscious knowledge, and access their untapped resourcefulness, if you don’t believe they can?.

It felt fitting to explore such a concept, given I was in the home of Michelangelo’s David.  I recall the time when I first saw it.  It was the first piece of art from the genius that I had seen, with my very own eyes. 

“I saw the angel in marble and carved until I set him free”

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

Whether you are an artist, a leader of a Fortune 500 company, a parent or a supportive friend, if you want to help someone realise their potential, you have to believe in them, you have to see that potential.

There are numerous studies which have demonstrated the impact of seeing that belief, commonly referred to as the Pygmalion effect, after Livingston’s seminal article in the HBR in 1969.  He drew the title from the mythical sculpture Pygmalion who carves a statue of a woman that is brought to life, and also paid homage to George Bernard Shaw’s play which explores that the notion that the way one person treats any other can for better or worse, be transforming1.

Think about a time in your life when you knew someone didn’t believe in your potential. 

How did that show in their behaviour?  How did that impact on your attitude, your behaviour and your performance? 

And when someone did believe in you?  How did that show in their behaviour?  How did that impact on your attitude, your behaviour and your performance? 

What are the subtle or not so subtle messages you give about your belief in the other?  We can often make the mistake of making conclusions about someone’s capability by what they do, when behaviour and potential can be two different things.

This short clip explores this theme a little, and also helps us think about what it takes to realise that potential.

1. Livingston, J. S (1969) "Pygamalion in Management", Best of HR, Harvard Business Review (January 2003) pg 5 -12
Never Give Up,  from Opp4Wealth

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