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The aim of this study was to investigate which leader behaviors mediate the relationship between leader expectations and employee engagement in learning activities. Based on Rosenthal’s Pygmalion model, five potential mediators of the Pygmalion effect were distinguished: leader—member exchange relationship, goal setting (i.e., goal specificity, goal difficulty), providing learning opportunities, and feedback. Data from 904 manager—subordinate dyads in six organizations showed that leader expectations were related to employee engagement in learning activities. Goal specificity, goal difficulty, and providing learning opportunities proved to be mediators. These findings suggest that goal setting lies at the heart of the Pygmalion effect.




Bezuijen, X. M., van den Berg, P. T., van Dam, K., & Thierry, H. (2009). Pygmalion and employee learning: The role of leader behaviors. Journal of Management, 35(5), 1248–1267. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206308329966

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