What can competitive shooting teach us about authentic leadership?

The Magic of the Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon.

It suggests that communicating our sincere belief in others’ ability to perform a specific task shall inspire them to rise to the challenge and motivates them to perform with excellence against all odds. 


Does that kind of magical influencing power truly exist?

Can we actually influence others to turn around business results by believing in them, and believing in ourselves as influential leaders?


During one of my martial arts training sessions when I was 16, I was approached by an old army veteran who was the club shooting team’s coach. He told me that there was a national championship coming up in two months. He needed female shooters in my age category to compete. I spotted a new adventure on the horizon, so I agreed to join his team right away.

While training for the competition, my trainer told me that the shooter’s worst enemy is their mind. Scoring a good shot makes them an egoist, which leads them to lose focus and mess up the next shot. Scoring a bad shot makes them nervous and also leads to messing up the following shot. He suggested that I only pay attention to the right technique he taught me for every shot, and never look at the target when I retrieve it.
He said:

“Let your hard work, distinguished talent and good technique determine the results”
I followed my trainer’s instructions to the letter until it was finally the day of the competition.
At the competition we shoot four sets of ten shots each; every shot is scored on a scale from 0 to 10. The closer you get to the centre (bullseye), the higher you score and we hand over every set to the judges one by one for scoring.

On the day of the competition, I started my first set, never looked at the target after any shot, as per my trainer’s instructions. I handed over the first set to the judge for scoring, and a few minutes later, I found my trainer entering the shooting range and asking the judge for a time out.

I left my post and walked towards my trainer with a big smile on my face, as I was very pleased and excited about this whole new experience.
My trainer had absolutely no expression on his face, but when he saw me smiling, he smiled back and asked me: “Are you ok? Is everything alright?”
I said: “Yes, everything is great.”
He replied: “Perfect, keep doing what you are doing…You are doing great”
I went back to my post to continue the remaining three sets, and I handed them over one by one to the judges, packed my gun, and headed outside to join the rest of the shooters waiting for the results.

I was thrilled to know that I won the bronze medal in my first ever shooting competition, where every shooter in the country competed, and after only two months of hard training.
I thought I owed my trainer a thank you for training me so well, but I realised that there was a lot more to thank him for.

I discovered that the first of my four sets scored at 35 out of 100.
The score meant that almost every shot was far away from the centre. This made my trainer panic and come running to the shooting range to see what went wrong. When he saw me smiling, he realised that I didn’t have a clue about how bad my performance was because I was following his instructions to the letter, and despite being under tremendous stress due to competing with national champions for the first time, I was trying to remain positive. He weighed up his options and decided to continue having faith in me.


My trainer knew that the reason behind my underperformance was pure fear, not lack of skills. So, he trusted his skills as a coach, my skills as a shooter and bet on them both. He asked me to keep doing what I am doing, and even praised my performance while emphasizing my outstanding talent.


My following 3 sets were all above 95/100, which were considered very high scores even for the gold medalist in this competition, leading to drastically turning around the final results, and securing me a bronze medal in my first ever competition.

I won the gold in the following championship, but the real prize was learning a life lesson about what it means to be a coach, a leader and an inspiration.

Regardless of our role in an organisation, whether we hold a managerial position or not, it is essential that we consciously choose to influence our team members positively. We do this by sincerely believing in their capabilities and communicating these high expectations to them. By doing so, their self-confidence will grow and their productivity will increase. (Livingston, 2003)

In addition, we will be transforming ourselves into the kind of influential leaders that everyone looks up to for inspiration, due to their charismatic personality and sincere trust, simply because The magic of the Pygmalion effect is REAL!!!

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