During a seminar I noticed some interesting language that was being used by one of the participants. When talking about other people, he would often use the word, “idiot.” A favorite phrase seemed to be, “people are idiots.”

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that he felt that most of his employees were, well “idiots.”  And some of the stories he shared could have been seen as backing up his point-of-view, but that misses the bigger problem.

People tend to fulfill the beliefs we have about them.

Robert Rosenthal and Kermit Fode tested this idea in a rather ingenious way. They told psychologists that they had two groups of rats. One group had been bred to get through a maze quickly, while the other group was bred to be slow. The psychologists reported that the rats performed as expected with the bright rats moving more quickly through the maze than the dim rats. The only thing was, there was no difference between the groups of rats. The beliefs of the psychologists about the two groups of rats was all that was different.

Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson did a similar experiment in the classroom. Kids were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Their teachers were told nothing about one group of students and that the other group would likely perform well in school. Later in the year all of the kids were given IQ test. The kids who were expected to do better, had the most intellectual gains. The only difference in these groups of kids, were the expectations of the teachers.

Which group would you want your child randomly assigned to?

Our expectations about people matter. And we can’t even begin to empower others until we make sure our beliefs about them and expectations for them are in alignment.

Moral of the story, if you find yourself surrounded by idiots, it’s time to take a look at your beliefs.


John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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