We are not WHO we are. We are not WHO we think we are. We are not WHO others think we are. We are WHO we THINK others THINK we are.”

I read this in a magazine a long time ago, and although this might not always be the case, I found it at work in my own life, and have seen it manifest in many cases. When we engage with people that we think, thinks we are funny, we tell many jokes. When we engage with someone that we think, thinks we are clever, we have something clever and insightful to share… With people assuming we don’t know a thing about a topic, we will be hesitant to say or do things, in fear of making fools of ourselves, letting ourselves down, and believing superiors and/or peers’ opinion that I am no good at it… Living up to my conviction, in agreement with their expressed expectation or assumption of my abilities, i.e. I can’t perform a specific task.

I am sure you have heard of many stories, where adults would blame their failures on something their fathers said to them, or often just overhearing them saying something about them. Just google “my father thinks I’m useless.” And see how many people of ALL ages, especially men, struggle, and have been struggling, with the effect of a father’s lack of belief their whole lives. 

It was in 1963 that Robert Rosenthal, a young clever psychologist professor taught his students the power of assumption, when he, overnight, randomly posted signs on certain rats’ cages that they were dumb, and on others’ that they were smart. The results were astonishing when the “smart” rats consistently outperformed the ‘dumb” ones in navigating the mazes. It was so far-fetched at the time, that no academic journal would even consider publishing it. It turns out that there is nothing supernatural or telepathic about the phenomena… Everything has to do with the expectation of the person making the assumption. The changes in outcome were the result of the subtle changes in their behaviours – their touch was a bit gentler. Their tone of voice and language were slightly more pleasant and encouraging. The look in their eyes expressed … belief!

It is not only true in families, between parents and siblings. It is true in sports at all levels – from the beginner to the pro. It is at play and has its effect in the corporate world among peers, leaders to team members AND vice versa. We often become what people assume about us. We become what we assume about ourselves… and followers become what their leaders assume about them.

Ben Zander, the author of “The Art of Possibility,” said: “As leaders, we’re giving out grades in every encounter we have with people. We can choose to give out grades as an expectation to live up to, and then we can reassess them according to performance. Or we can offer high grades as a possibility to live into. The second approach is much more powerful.”

He’d done many experiments rather than giving a student, or staff member an A, allowing them to prove him right, instead of giving someone a D and asking them to prove him wrong. And like the rats, people will consistently live up to our expectations.

The late Stephen R Covey said it this way: “Through years of study, teaching and working with people all over the world, from all walks of life, I have determined that leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential in a way that is so clear that they come to see it in themselves.”

In Zander’s words again: “It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he does not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming.”

Start becoming aware of those subtle disempowering messages in your own heart. Put in the hard work to uncover the origin of the assumption that drives it. Become aware of the limiting thought you hold of yourself or the people in your family or your team. Get to the bottom of your assumption and dare to replace it with a positive one.

This powerful truth has the possibility of transforming our lives for good or for bad. The choice is yours and mine!

Love and Respect.
Stefan Lessing

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