The story of Pygmalion has its roots in Greek mythology. A sculptor, Pygmalion created a beautiful ivory statue called Galatea, which represented the ideal woman. He then fell in love with her perfection so much that she came to life and he married her. The story was reinterpreted over a century ago in a play by George Bernard Shaw, where Professor Higgins takes Cockney flower girl Eliza Dolittle, and makes a lady out of her. The play also inspired the iconic film My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn.Yes, were as outraged as you are towards Shaws outdated ideas about what constitutes a lady, but for now, lets set that aside and focus on how it spurred off research that has since been applied to both academics and the workplace. In the 1960s, two social psychologists from America called Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson started researching behaviours in school children. They discovered that with high expectations and the belief that someone was par excellence, performances and grades were also enhanced. Since then, this research has found more favour in the boardroom, rather than the classroom. Known as The Pygmalion Effect (or simply The Rosenthal Effect poor Jacobson!), it simply implies that employees perform better and succeed at the impossible when more is expected of them.Naresh Dogra, Human Resources Manager at an IT Firm says, The Pygmalion Effect is what we called a self-fulfilling prophecy. When managers tell their subordinates that expectations are elevated, and also show confidence in their abilities, subordinates feel inspired to go that extra mile. Both effort and performance are boosted. Think about it. If your boss pops by and tells you how important your work is, and how youre the only person who can do it well, wouldnt you feel flattered? It would boost your morale as well. When someone thinks we are capable, we tend to work harder to live up to that ideal. In fact, The Pygmalion Effect is also widely used by coaches to goad athletes into performing their best.It isnt just what people say. There are a lot of other behavioural factors that people in authority positions can use to spark inspiration among subordinates. In 1973, Rosenthal proposed a four-factor theory climate (atmosphere or non-verbal cues such as smiling), feedback, input (time and energy invested), and output (how and how often engagement with employees occurs).According to the Harvard Business Review, in a study of the careers of 100 insurance salespeople who began work with either highly competent or less-than-competent agency managers, the Life Insurance Agency Management Association found that those with average sales-aptitude test scores were nearly five times as likely to succeed under managers with good performance records as under managers with poor records, and those with superior sales-aptitude scores were found to be twice as likely to succeed under high-performing managers as they were under low-performing managers.Dogra says, As with every other tool, there are pros and cons. Leaders need to use their discretion and judgement about whether it is right to apply the Pygmalion Effect to a particular employee. For instance, if someone is capable, but not performing to their full potential, then this might be the push they need to get ahead. However, if someone is already doing their best and cannot cope with the added expectation, it could result in burnout, feeling demotivated, and other issues. Another major challenge is that leaders attitudes towards their subordinates very quickly result in stereotypes within a team. So extra encouragement to one person, versus very little attention to another could cause friction between employees as well.Whether youre a female entrepreneur or are in a leadership position within another organisation, you can also use The Pygmalion Effect to network, mentor, and support other women particularly if they have been side-lined with fewer expectations or opportunities than their male counterparts until now. This is especially true of younger women who report to you, whose self-image in the workplace is yet to be fructified and formed. You can use your own successes to spur other women to perform well, scale new heights, and eventually get ahead in their careers. In fact, a 2012 report by Catalyst stated that around 73 percent of female mentors encouraged other women, while only 30 percent of men did the same among one another. Way to go!Psychologist and counsellor Manjula MK says, We see ourselves through the eyes of others, especially someone who is an authority figure, whose opinion matters. The Pygmalion Effect is actually a cycle. It starts off with the perception and behaviour of a person in a position of authority towards someone who works under her. This in turn leads to the next step the leaders behaviour influences how people see themselves. The third step is how this self-perception leads to changes in their own behaviour and performance, which finally then reinforces the leaders confidence and belief in the employee. The cycle keeps repeating itself, if implemented well. The mirror of the Pygmalion Effect is called the Golem Effect. When someone is treated as incapable or worthless, they tend to perceive themselves negatively as well. As a result, their performances spiral.It is fascinating to see how much expectations can shape ones behaviour for better or worse. But that is how positive and negative reinforcements can impact the work culture and environment around us. After all, as Eliza Dolittle said, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how shes treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat me as a lady and always will.