We’ve all heard of, or perhaps been cautioned about, self-fulfilling prophecies. Usually, however, it’s done in a negative context.
For example: perhaps an employee, worrying that their supervisor is unhappy with his/her performance, begins to act more nervously, starts making more mistakes, etc. As a result, the manager, noticing the behavioral difference, does start to become dissatisfied with her employe’s work.
Self-fulfilling prophecy can also be seen as a positive model, evoking the old phrase “fake it ’til you make it.” Nervous about giving a speech? Hold your head up, walk tall, remind yourself you know more about the topic than anyone else in the room… And slowly, a person can shift their mindset from “I’m scared to give a speech,” to “I can do this!” (Whistling a happy tune, ala “The King and I,” is optional.)
But how can you apply self-fulfilling prophecy to Leadership?
- How the self-fulfilling prophecy works,
- And how anyone in any rank or setting can be a leader by applying the concept in a positive way.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): There is always interest in different leadership styles — Explain what the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy leadership style is?
Amy Morgan: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy is a philosophy, rather than a leadership style. It’s the belief that when saying something that isn’t necessarily true, you influence other people’s behavior, until the statement that previously wasn’t true… becomes true. So, if someone hears something often enough, they start to act like what the statement is telling them, and eventually, their actions reflect the statement- which makes it become a truth. Leaders influence others with their words, and their actions adapt to reflect what a leader is telling them.
JCH: The notion of “leadership through the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” is an interesting concept. How do you see this being exhibited in everyday life? For example, how would a police officer or prosecutor or district attorney use this philosophy?
Amy: Everything we say to other people influences them in some way. The more you mean to someone, the more your words affect them. The more often someone hears a message, also, the more they are affected by the message. Leaders are not just those in executive or management roles at work; leaders are everywhere, and we can lead from any level of any organization or group. So the things you say to others, no matter who they are, have an impact. If people in especially influential roles, like police officers, courtroom roles, social workers, etc., can remember that every word they say is somehow influencing someone else’s behavior, they can use their words to affect positive change.
Leaders are not just those in executive or management roles at work;
leaders are everywhere, and we can lead from any level of any organization or group.
So the things you say to others, no matter who they are, have an impact.
JCH: Not all leadership styles will work in all situations. Can you expand on when this leadership style might be best used? Or when it might not be as appropriate to use in a given situation?
Amy: Any time there’s a situation where behavior needs to be changed, this philosophy can be used. The Self- Fulfilling Prophecy motivates change by influencing another person to start to act on the words they hear, and then they start to believe the words based on their own actions and the words. The best and most appropriate use is to motivate people to grow and change themselves for the better. For example, my son, when he was about 12-13, wasn’t all that interested in hard work or focus. So when I did see him doing something where he’d worked hard or accomplished something, I pointed it out, and said, “You’re such a hard worker, you really stayed focused,” and then I would use any opportunity I saw to repeat those words to him. He began hearing the words, “You are a hard worker” over and over, until his actions started reflecting those words he was hearing. At 18 he is actually a very hard worker now, and believes himself to be just that. The downside to the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, while I’ll teach in more depth in this webinar, is the impact of negative words on someone’s behavior and beliefs.
If people in especially influential roles, like police officers,
courtroom roles, social workers, etc., can remember
that every word they say is somehow influencing someone else’s behavior,
they can use their words to affect positive change.
JCH: What drew you, initially, to this theory or style of leadership? Can you share examples of how you’ve seen this leadership style used in other public safety or legal situations?
Amy: My own personal experience with hearing messages and beginning to believe them, in a negative way, are probably why I’m drawn to this philosophy, as well as my deep interest in mental health and behavioral change. I’m someone who wants to help others, and encourage others, and that’s why I’m in the mental health and training field – to help others learn things about themselves and to grow personally. One example of how I’m seeing this being used, unfortunately, these days is the negative public perception, and the public criticism, of law enforcement officers. Criticism of a broad group affects everyone in the group, and when it comes from the people the officers are getting up every morning to go protect, it has a deep impact. Hearing negative comments continuously, day after day, is going to eventually have a negative influence on officers, and so I would encourage officers to counteract those negative influences with positive, from wherever they can get it, as often as possible.
JCH: Share with us what members of the JCH community will learn that they will be able to immediately use the next day after hearing your presentation?
Amy: The awesome thing about the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy is that it’s something that can be used immediately, and all day long, every day. As soon as the webinar ends I hope the participants will look for an opportunity to positively influence another person with positive words.