How to Avoid Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Self Fulfilling Prophecy in Ministry

National Association of Christian Ministers Leadership Series

By Michael Mooney, Exec. Elder


The self-fulfilling prophecy is a false definition of a situation that results in behavior that makes the prediction come true.

Here are a few examples:

* A pastor takes a position at a new church.  Soon he picks a person from the crowd that seems to conflict with his own personality. After a few interactions with them he loses objectivity and concludes that they are a “troublemaker”. In time he begins to view all of their motives and intentions in this light.  Even though the person may or may not have ever been a trouble maker, as far as the pastor is concerned they live up to his profile of them as trouble.

* A department or store manager believes that a new employee is lazy because they have trouble meeting the company’s dress code by tucking their shirt in, etc.  The manager makes it a point to never assign the new employee any tasks of responsibility.  In time the manager concludes that the employee is not “management material” because they are lazy and therefore not promotable.

Earl Nightingale:

“We tend to live up to our expectations.”

Claude M. Bristol:

“We usually get what we anticipate.”

[Proverbs 23:7

For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he


As leaders we should never forget Jesus’ words, “all things, whatever you desire that men should do to you, do even so to them” (Mat 7:12 MKJV).  It seems safe to say that the overwhelming majority of men and women in the world do not want to be misjudged as troublemakers, lazy, or anything else of the like.  If they do not want to be treated this way, we probably do not what to be treated this way either.  Let us be careful about the negative expectations we place on others; because we just might get what we expect, and what we expect may never have been what we wanted.  However, there is a good side to all of this.  Self fulfilling prophecies may also produce good results.  Therefore, leaders should expect good things of people, we just might get what we expect!


Reflective Question 1:

As a leader, how do your positive and negative “expectations” of others result in seeing those things come to pass?


Reflective Question 2:

As a leader, how can you guard yourself from making negative prophecies?


Reflective Question 3:

As a leader, how will you set good expectations for others to fulfill?