Leaders’ conceptions of followers: Implications for naturally occurring Pygmalion effects

Paul Whiteley, Thomas Sy, Stefanie K. Johnson
The Leadership Quarterly, Vol 23, Issue 5, Oct 2012, Pages 822–834

We investigated the relationships between leaders’ implicit followership theories (LIFTs) (conceptions of followers) and naturally occurring Pygmalion effects (leaders’ high performance expectations that improve follower performance). Results based on 151 workplace leader–follower dyads supported a model of naturally occurring Pygmalion effects. Positive LIFTs led to higher performance expectations, liking, and relationship quality from leaders, which impacted follower performance. Supervisory experience moderated the relationship between positive LIFTs and leaders’ performance expectations for their followers, such that the performance expectations of leaders with less supervisory experience were more strongly influenced by their conceptions of followers. Implications of the findings for improving follower performance are discussed. Suggestions for future research are offered: antecedents of LIFTs, negative LIFTs, Golem effects, and role reversed Pygmalion effects, among others.