The topic of work engagement is moving up on the managerial agenda as it sets the stage for numerous beneficial outcomes for both organizations and their employees. It is clear, however, that not all employees are equally engaged in their job. The current study taps into theory on positive self-fulfilling prophecies induced by leaders’ high expectations of followers (i.e., the Pygmalion effect) and examines their potential to facilitate follower work engagement. By integrating literature on implicit followership theories with the Pygmalion model, we investigate the assumption that leaders’ high expectations are universally perceived as and therefore foster the same desirable results for all employees. We argue and find that the extent to which followers’ work engagement benefits from high leader expectations depends on their implicit followership theory of industry (IFTI; i.e., the general belief that employees are hardworking, productive, and willing to go above and beyond). We also find that when followers hold a high IFTI but feel that their leader does not convey high expectations, their engagement at work suffers. In addition, we examine whether leaders’ IFTI forms the origin of naturally occurring Pygmalion effects. Our results show that a positive IFTI among leaders is especially interpreted as high/positive expectations by followers who also hold a high/positive IFTI. Our study introduces boundary conditions to the Pygmalion-at-work model by revealing the interactive role of leaders’ and followers’ implicit followership theory of industry. We contribute to the advancement of cognitive, follower-centric perspectives on leadership and provide evidence for the importance of schema congruence.

Implicit followership theories, pygmalion effect, schema congruence, work engagement,
Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Veestraeten, M. (Marlies), Johnson, S.K. (Stefanie K.), Leroy, H.L, Sy, T. (Thomas), & Sels, L. (Luc). (2020). Exploring the Bounds of Pygmalion Effects: Congruence of Implicit Followership Theories Drives and Binds Leader Performance Expectations and Follower Work Engagement. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. doi:10.1177/1548051820980428