Facilitating the Pygmalion effect: The overlooked role of subordinate perceptions of the leader


Leonard Karakowsky, School of Human Resource Management, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3 (e-mail: lkarakow@yorku.ca).


For many years, the Pygmalion effect has served as a colourful, conceptual reminder of the power of supervisory expectations in enhancing subordinate performance. However, regardless of the myriad of studies that have sought to replicate this effect and identify its parameters, little attention has actually been paid to the processes underlying this phenomenon. Rather, the existing model implies that the subordinate is an ‘always-willing’, yet somewhat ‘passive’ recipient of Pygmalion-oriented leader efforts. Our theoretical paper unpacks the role of subordinate perceptions of the leader and considers how it can influence receptiveness to the leader's Pygmalion-oriented efforts. By revisiting and building upon the original Pygmalion model, we attempt to enrich our understanding of this phenomenon, as well as to offer insight into why not all Pygmalion leader efforts are equally successful.