I remember when I first saw it.  Michelangelo’s David.  It was the first piece of art from the genius that I had seen, with my very own eyes.

“I saw the angel in marble and carved until I set him free”

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”.

Whether you are an artist, a leader of a Fortune 500 company, a coach, parent or a supportive friend. If you want to help someone realise their potential, you have to believe in them. You have to see that potential.

Indeed, how can you help someone extend beyond the limits of their own conscious knowledge, and access their untapped resourcefulness, if you don’t believe they can?.

The Pygmalion effect

There are numerous studies which have demonstrated the impact of seeing that belief. Commonly referred to as the Pygmalion effect, after Livingston’s seminal article in the HBR in 1969.  He drew the title from the mythical sculpture Pygmalion who carves a statue of a woman that is brought to life. And also paid homage to George Bernard Shaw’s play which explores that the notion that the way one person treats any other can for better or worse, be transforming.

Our own experiences

Think about a time in your life when you knew someone didn’t believe in your potential.

How did that show in their behaviour?  How did that impact on your attitude, your behaviour and your performance?

And when someone did believe in you?  How did that show in their behaviour?  How did that impact on your attitude, your behaviour and your performance?

What are the subtle or not so subtle messages you give about your belief in the other?

We may talk freely about unleashing human potential, but deep down not quite believe it.  See the other as smaller, less capable.  We may not really listen to them. And interrupt them as they talk.  Hold back from giving them a chance. Not give them that stretching assignment.   I saw this with my own experience of collaborating with different consultancies. One who gave me work with Executive Boards and fronting big events. The other, not.

And of course, it reflects how we see ourselves.  I remember when undertaking my training coaching over 15 years ago. In a 360 assessment, my leader at the time, evaluated me ‘low’ on ‘belief in potential’.  I was horrified. Of course I believe in my coachees potential!. Reflecting on possible reasons for a low score, I realised. How could I believe so deeply in the other, if I did not believe in myself?

We owe it to ourselves, the other and the world to love and believe in ourselves deeply.

As Julia Middleton, founder of Common Purpose and Women Emerging from Isolation, and a leader who believed in me, said on the #earthconversepodcast “there is nothing more sinful than squandering talent”.

Creating the conditions

In the words of Tara Brach, meditation teacher, “the acorn has this urge to become an oak and the oakness is already there”.  

As leaders surely it is our role to know that. And help provide the conditions for the oak to realise its potential.

What greater gift can you give someone.  And all of us on this planet.

Tune into all the inspirational stories of people unlocking potential on the #earthconversepodcast.




  • Livingston, J. S (1969) Pygamalion in Management, Best of HR, Harvard Business Review (January 2003) pg 5 -12
  • Tara Brach, Hope and the Spiritual path (part 2A) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AY1_AdeptdQ
  • Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
  • #earthconversepodcast on any podcast platform, youtube..here:https://earthconverse.com/earthconversepodcast/


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