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Why Establishing High Expectations Is a Quality of Good Leadership Regardless of your leadership style, it's important to raise the bar and help your team rise to meet it.

By Richard Koch

This story appears in the January 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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Eighteen classes of schoolchildren were tested for their IQs. The results weren't shown to students or parents. Instead, their teachers were simply given a list of which ones scored highest, along with these instructions: Do not treat these students differently than the others.

What happened next may have taken place in a classroom, but it can light a path for our own adult careers. Here were the results — originally produced in this study in 1965 but repeated many times over: After eight months, all the students were given another IQ test. Among the children not identified as unusually gifted before, there were no notable changes. But among the students who had scored highly before, four-fifths scored at least 10 IQ points higher the second time…and a fifth of them gained 30 points.

How? Expectations of the children's performance became self-fulfilling. Even though the teachers were told not to treat them differently, their expectations of these children were set high. The teachers unconsciously communicated something to the children about their own abilities, and the children rose up as a result.

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