It's an admittedly weird story, as is much of Greek legend.
A sculptor from Cyprus named Pygmalion once carved a statue of a woman out of ivory. He was clearly impressed with himself. But, he also had some skills, it seems. Pygmalion had convinced himself this was the most life-like statue he'd ever seen.
He was in love.
That week there a festival to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Pygmalion made his offerings and whispered his prayer to the "love goddess".
Things get weird at this point. When he arrived home from the festival, he kissed the statue. Instead of cool ivory, he felt warm flesh. He kissed the statue again - and his statue came to life. He named her Galatea.
They married and lived happily ever after. (Which is actually unusual, as Greek myth will often contain a demented twist. Greek gods tend to be a tad sadistic.) They even had a kid named Paphos. Galatea and Paphos are both real places in modern Greece.
The Pygmalion Effect
Pygmalion myth has been a part of modern storytelling. "My Fair Lady" adapted from a play called "Pygmalion". Pinocchio riffs on Pygmalion myth, as does the movie "Pretty Woman".
Pygmalion also touches modern sociology, business, and leadership in an interesting manner. Contemporary research has given this principle a less Greek myth-y name and called it "The Rosenthal Effect," named after the sociologist who did the study in the late 1960's. Without going into the academic detail, the study involved the effect of positive and negative expectations on children from teachers. There have been further studies and counter-studies since that time. Rosenthal's results may or may not have been completely accurate.
But this principle is true when it comes to leadership. In the adult world, Rosenthal rules.
A leader's expectations of people can alter their behavior.
Expectations may not create a person out of an ivory statue. But expectations can profoundly influence the way a person works, learns, and creates.
We define our expectations of the people around us in a very intentional manner. This is important for every leader - whether she has a position of leadership or not. Our attitude towards people can change their lives, for good or for ill.
Believe the best - and expect the best - this will bring the best out of people.
Without the weird love story.