Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

The Boss Believes in You…or Not?

Psychologist Robert Rosenthal did a famous experiment in 1968 where he gave all the children in an elementary class a test and told the teachers that some of the children were unusually clever (though they were actually average). He came back at the end of the school year and tested the same class again. Guess what? The children singled out had improved their scores far more that other children.

This is often referred to as the self-fulfilling prophecy and it goes like this: If a person thinks we are clever or stupid or whatever, they will treat us that way. If we are treated as if we are clever, stupid or whatever, we will act, and even become, that way. The person has thus had their prophecy about us fulfilled!

I suspect many of you have experienced this. Did you ever have a boss you just couldn’t please? Pretty soon you start doubting your approaches, and often walk away from your strengths in an effort to guess what will be acceptable. Conversely, it is great to have a boss that you know inherently trusts you and believes you can do great work. You tend to trust your instincts, seize opportunities, and go the extra mile, causing your performance to be much better in that environment.

What are the lessons?

1. If you’re a boss, until proven wrong, make it clear to a subordinate that you believe he or she can knock it out of the park. If the person screws up, discuss the incident and indicate your confidence he or she will have no trouble learning from it. If they continue to underperform, help them find a job that is a better fit( inside or outside the company).

2. If you are a subordinate with a negative boss, talk it with that person. If no progress after a few tries, indicate your interest in finding a job that is a better fit (that often is a trauma for the grumpy boss and a big change in that person’s behavior sometimes occurs).

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