I remember a time when I desperately needed to move to Germany for personal reasons.
Barely a year after I had joined a multinational consulting firm, I sought a transfer to its German practice. Yet, the odds were firmly stacked against my favour. My German wasn’t fluent. I didn’t know anybody in the German practice. Also, an official request for a transfer required a tenure of at least three years.
I worked hard to secure this transfer. I reached out to colleagues in the German practice and attended German classes on the weekends. Nevertheless, I was still plagued by a constant sense of doubt.
One evening, during an office party, I took a manager aside and told him about how I badly needed to secure the move to Germany. I asked him whether such an expectation was even realistic because I didn’t know a single colleague who had managed to pull this off. I still remember his response like it were yesterday.
‘I am sure that you will secure your transfer. I believe that it will happen soon.’
I also remember the relief I felt on listening to his words. He believed that I could make it. Despite all the work I was putting in, his words did more to allay my fears. Sure enough, a few months after this conversation I secured the transfer to Germany.
As humans, we often live up to the expectations that other people have of us. Psychologists call this the Pygmalion effect. When teachers were told that a random sample of their students are ‘intellectual bloomers’, the students’ grades improved. When a police-officer started handing out positive tickets to the youth in a Canadian town for for responsible public behaviour, youth related crime rate fell by 50%. Similarly, when you surround yourself with a bunch of cynical, nay-saying friends, you often end up subscribing to their limiting beliefs of yourself.
People rise or fall to the level of whatever other people expect of them. As leaders, it is our duty to expect wisely.