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This comes from the saying that Zig Ziglar coined: “your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude”.
And a great parallel quote comes from Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Attitude and “stickability”. What great virtues in any success.
I have come to love these and other equally appropriate sayings. Why? Because of how often attitude determines altitude proves to be relevant in a coaching conversation and also throughout a coaching program that seriously and significantly help my clients in “raising your game”.
What Are You Known For?
If you are in business today you surely can’t afford to be known as “grumpy”, can you? You know, that you can be a little volatile, particularly when someone pushes your buttons? Aren’t we all at some stage? Or are you one of those rare people that can always “leave home or problems” at the office door when you arrive at work?
If you are a leader, and I assessed you about the kind of people you selected (or inherited and maintained) to surround yourself with, what might I find? Really solid competencies? Or really good people skills and EQ? Or both? Sometimes or usually?
And what might the prevailing attitudes be? Would I find more “bring” people (as in those waiting for everything they need to be brought to them) of more “fetch” people (as in those that know what they want or what is expected, and then go after it)?
Would most of them really want to be there because they love doing what they do best? You know, that you’d sense that they’re doing what “makes their heart sing”? Are you supporting or suppressing that as their leader? What proportion might just be “showing up” and going through the motions because they “need the money”? They are largely attitude choices, aren’t they?Who are you investing in and what are you tolerating?
That would also tell me quite a lot about the kind of leader you are, wouldn’t it?
Oh and by the way, if I asked them how they saw you and your attitude, what might they say?
Why All This Attitude Determines Altitude Stuff?
I like to define attitude as the orientation of one’s mind towards people, things or situations, particularly when under pressure that threatens our “true north”.
I have learned that the “true us” (as in authentic us) isn’t as easily visible when we are cruising (as in plain and calmly sailing), but really only emerges when we are “tested” in heavy waters and properly challenged. It’s as if in calm waters we have so many more of our faculties available to us. Or that we are more aware of them, and how to leverage them in exercising choices.We seem more in control of saying, doing and representing “all the right things”.
Faculties that when we are confronted or threatened, seem so often then to disappear behind “the fog of the situation”, right? When we go into “patch protection” or “damage control” mode, our left brain ego seems to kick in, and it can all too often or all too easily become one of “I win, you lose”, can’t it?
Gone are the smiles, gone is the diplomacy, the carefully worded “spin”. Out come the knives and the frowns and the raised voices, the posturing, the aggression and the more terse language (or should I say “fighting talk”?).
Our attitude controls the choices we make in terms of which way we allow these to play out, doesn’t it? You realize that you are in control of which version of you shows up each day, don’t you?
So Where Does Aptitude Fit In?
Both the Ziglar and Coolidge quotes suggest that our competencies become secondary to our ability to persevere and to our determination when it comes to our ongoing “success”. I am well known to coach that we rely on and leverage our “soft skills” and our EQ the more our roles need to lead and to influence people to outcomes; that the right purpose will energize us to strive against the inevitable obstacles and challenges that enrich the rewards we chase.
Of course the “professional silo” that we commenced our career in would have created the foundation upon which our confidence and our ability to “deliver” was built; what I call our “vertical skills”; our specialist skills. And as we “grow” both in our personal capacity as well as in the hierarchies, particularly of the corporate business world, so we need to learn to transition into roles where we want to develop and leverage these “horizontal skills”; our more generalist skills in order to excel and to succeed.
And so our “aptitude” shifts into the more “softer skills” and we have to learn different “language” in order to further grow and succeed.
However, whether in the vertical or horizontal context, or both, success (altitude) will require a collection of capabilities and competencies we will have built over time, that make up our track record and grant us some of our credibility. You know that I am now going to add how much greater our success will probably be if the above is coupled with the right attitudes, don’t you?
I Have Great Skills, Why The Attitude Emphasis?
So having said all that, we’re in agreement how important aptitude is, so why all the emphasis on attitude determines altitude?
Well, look around you. What common traits do you find in “successful” leaders that you admire and look up to? What sort of attitudes prevail in their behaviour? It’s less about their “technical or business competence” than it is about their ability to inspire and lead us to want to willingly and enthusiastically follow and contribute to their vision and direction, isn’t it?
And how much of that would you suggest is based on their attitude? You know, their “can do” approach; their always looking for the positive, the upside, the opportunity, no matter what obstacles appear on the road to the desired outcome?
And have you noticed how often such leaders can maintain such attitudes even if their confidence is tested? This is where I have noticed how sometimes an attitude of vulnerability (as in “I don’t have to know everything”) can energize the whole team “push through” the barrier, because their contribution was sought after, not “squashed” by prevailing ego’s.
Another trait I like to ascribe to attitude is resilience. Resilience means how quickly you bounce back after a setback. This is where a lack of self belief and lack of confidence can “keep good people down”. This is where a good attitude will allow the person thus confronted to “dig deep” and to look for the positive and the opportunity rather than dwell on the negative and the threat.
I remember well all the people I have recruited in my corporate career. I am known to suggest that despite all the tools and tests and techniques we have available to us today, I still regard recruitment a 50/50 success / failure affair.
My recruitment experience was that if in my corporate leadership days, I was presented with a shortlist of candidates to interview myself, most of the “technical” abilities had already been assessed. What was left for me (or my panel) to assess was simply how well I or we thought their presentation convinced us that they could “deliver” what we needed them to in our expectations. Often it was subtle indicators that gave those insights. More often than not, it was the attitudes that they displayed, particularly when we put them under pressure that gave us confidence in their selection or rejection.
Another area to highlight is your leadership style. Younger generations are far more mobile these days and quite willing to “vote with their feet” if their bosses have the kind of leadership style that smothers them or prevents them from learning by “having a go”. They seldom tolerate “bad attitudes” for long, do they? By that I mean lack of fairness, openness, consistency and above all overly ego driven and constraining “negative attitude behaviours”.
Attitude Determines Altitude – How Does That Affect Me As A Non-Leader?
However we aren’t all leaders so what does this mean for me as a “knowledge worker” or in my “silo” or on the shop floor, no matter what my job?
I mentioned the “bring and fetch” attitude above. Good leaders are always looking for “fetch people; those that want more; that want to grow themselves, their skills, their network, their reach, their visibility and influence. Those are the ones leaders are willing to invest in. Apart from the obvious “deliverables” you keep contributing to and with, how else do you think they notice that “fetch”? Attitude. Positive, can-do, opportunity thinking. Plus a good measure of willingness to learn and grow the requisite “soft skills” that will differentiate them from all the other “verticals”.
So let me stop you right here, whether a leader or a non-leader, and ask you to reflect where you fit in on this question?
If you are “on your way”, I acknowledge you and encourage you to keep growing, and even better if you start coaching others to do the same growing.
If not, I urge you to take stock and seek some insights from others that know you and have your interests at heart. And armed with those insights, I’d urge you to find the right books to read, and hang around some people you can learn these traits from.
If this blog post has resonated with you and you can see or feel that you have some work to do to improve your attitude, there is one key approach and one key technique that I will share with you in closing. You will find them described in “Awareness” and “Using The Gap To Reframe Yourself” (refer links below).
Whether a leader or led, next time you become aware of displaying a poor attitude, particularly if you are being confronted or feel threatened, “step back” before you respond (in a way you may regret) and ask yourself: “is this the smartest response that will get me what I need here, or how might I be able to look at this differently instead“? That’s the reframe, one of the most powerful situation management techniques I know. But it will only work coupled with an awareness of need or want and practice.
Another one of those “everybody can, but most won’t, and only a few will” situations, right?
And if you’re serious about wanting to make these changes, and acknowledge that you could use some support, why not engage a coach to help you fast track those changes and implement them into your successful growth. Go on, Contact Me and Let’s Talk Coaching.
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