DID YOU EVER see "My Fair Lady?" It was much more than a musical. It captured 11 Academy Awards in 1962, including Best Picture. It features many fine performances. I especially liked Rex Harrison, a famous British stage actor playing the part of Professor Henry Higgins, and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, the cockney flower girl turned into a princess on a bet. That is the premise.
It was originally a play, a smash hit in London. "Pygmalion" was one of the most successful plays George Bernard Shaw wrote. Shaw took the old Greek legend of Pygmalion, a sculptor who carved a statue of a beautiful woman that he ultimately fell in love with. Venus, the goddess of love, took pity on him and made the statue into a real woman so that he could marry her.
In the musical adaptation of Shaw's play, Col. Pickering and Professor Higgins make a bet. Can Higgins, a speech teacher and technically competent coach, teach Eliza what she needs to become a lady? Could she be passed off as such at an important ball in six months?
The game is on. They clean her up and teach her how to walk, talk and be a lady. What neither man counts on is falling in love with Eliza. Near the end of the story, after Eliza has made a profound impact on everyone she meets at the ball, she ponders her future and the marriage offers that came pouring in.
Analyzing what has happened to her in her personal transformation, she says wisely to Col. Pickering: "The first day we met, you called me Miss Doolittle. That was the beginning of self-respect for me. There were a hundred little things you did for me that you did not notice. You see, they came naturally to you."
Higgins never showed her respect. Continuing on, she concludes: "I'm not blaming him, it's his way, isn't it? But it made such a difference to me that you didn't do it [disrespect me]. You see, re-ally and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up [clothes, the proper way of speaking and so on], the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you Col. Pickering, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will."
In business, some managers always treat their subordinates in a way that leads to superior performance. But most managers, like Professor Higgins, unintentionally treat their subordinates in a way that leads to lower performance than they are capable of performing. Managers should understand and apply this great truth: The performance of the employees is directly linked to the manager's expectations and how they are treated.
Instill positive self-regard in your employees. If the manager has positive self-regard, he seems to exert its force by creating in others a sense of confidence and high expectations, not un-like Col. Pickering and Eliza Doolittle. Employees will try hard to meet his expectations and behave as they believe they are expected to!
For whom can you become a Pygmalion manager? Believe in others and watch what happens to their performance. You might just turn a flower girl into a princess!
Editor's note: This column previously appeared in CONTRACTOR e-Zine, a monthly electronic newsletter of commentary and exclusive news stories. To subscribe to CONTRACTOR e-Zine, send an e-mail request to [email protected]
His new e-book, "101 Stories to Make You Laugh, Cry or Think," will be available in September.