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Your People Will Only Grow If You Expect Them To

One of my favorite stories is the classic research study that was conducted in schools in order to determine the effect that teachers have on their students. At the beginning of the year, teachers were told which of their students were the brightest and which were not. At the end of the year, they measured the students’ scores and found that the “brightest” students had gotten even better after their teachers had been informed of their intelligence.

The catch in the story is that the “bright” students weren’t actually any more intelligent, on average, than the other students. The students had actually been assigned intelligence levels at random, and the only difference between them was what their teachers had been led to believe. So, how did the students improve if they weren’t actually any more intelligent than the ones who did not? Because their teachers expected them to.

There is a powerful lesson in leadership to be found in this story: our people will grow to the extent that we expect them to grow. If we don’t think very highly of our people, they will shrink into complacently and only do the bare minimum. On the other hand, if we have great expectations of our people and go out of our way to communicate those expectations to them, they will inevitably become invaluable assets to the team.

As is the case with many things, it all starts with leadership. How high are your expectations for your people? Do you communicate those expectations on a regular basis?