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IACM 2023

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Learning From Role Models of Hard Work Leads To Better Performance

In organizations, learning occurs not only through training and development programs but also through mentoring, coaching, and leader-follower exchanges. We test the theory that learners’ performance is influenced by the attributions they make about their instructors’ expertise. We find that when learners believe their instructors’ mastery is primarily the product of effort rather than of natural talent, they attain superior learning outcomes. Perceiving instructors as exemplars of hard work (“strivers”) rather than of innate ability (“naturals”) improves self-efficacy and prompts learners to ascribe more value to hard work over natural talent, which mediates their better learning outcomes. Archival evidence from the largest publicly available teaching evaluation database, “Rate My Professors,” a pre-registered experiment, meta-analyses of 12 additional studies, and 2 supplementary studies support these results. Our work demystifies natural talent; despite the awe that natural talent prompts, “strivers” may be more inspiring than “naturals,” leading people to thrive. Highlighting the hard work underlying the achievement of instructors and others responsible for transferring skills may help learners attain better performance and, ultimately, contribute to efficiency gains in training and development spending through improved learning outcomes. The findings have important implications for organizations and for traditional education settings.

Nuria Tolsá Caballero
University of Michigan
United States

Chia-Jung Tsay
University of Wisconsin-Madison
United States


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