The Pygmalion Principle by Steve Kay, Managing Director

Before we discuss the Pygmalion principle I would like to share with you another of Zig Ziglar’s stories:

Zig recalls an interview between a newspaper correspondent and Andrew Carnegie, a great industrialist, nearly 100 years ago. Apparently the journalist discovered that Carnegie had 38 millionaires working for him! The reporter asked why he had hired 38 millionaires. “They were not millionaires when I hired them.” replied Carnegie. So the journalists asked what he had done to make the men so valuable that he could pay them so much. Carnegie replied, “when you are mining for gold, you are looking for the seam of gold.”

The key here is to look for the seam of gold. The Pygmalion Principle is based upon a quote from the play, which was later made into a musical called ‘My Fair Lady.’ In which Professor Higgins has a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that he could take an East End flower girl and pass her off as a lady. As the film develops, to paraphrase, Eliza remarks to Pickering that the Professor still sees her as a flower girl who has changed her behaviours but to Pickering she is a lady!

In other words the coach has to see the seam of gold within the coachee! Good teachers do the same. Parents know that their child will be able to do things if they encourage them. Encouragement is a great word, the dictionary defines it as “inspiring with courage; stimulate with assistance.”

We were doing some leadership training with primary school head-teachers and deputy head teachers. One group was discussing a particular local head teacher, whom they said had an amazing ability to “see the seam of gold.” “How do you think she does it?” they asked me. I thought for a moment and answered, “maybe she expects it to be there, so she sees it.”

The more I thought about it afterwards, the more confident I was that this was true. Indeed it’s the ‘Doorman’ allowing information in.

Since writing this I understand the very same head teacher from Nottingham, Sharon Gray, won ‘The Pride of Britain Award.’ Having worked with a number of her team I can see evidence of her other leadership qualities and innovative approach. It is all about believing people have that ‘seam of gold’, expecting to find it and giving them responsibility and ownership. And boy, do Sharon’s team shine and burst with enthusiasm!