Leaders Know the Place of Attitude

You may have heard me share this quote from Batman Begins:

“Bruce, deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath… it’s what you do that defines you.”

Batman Begins (2005)

I’m not a fan of pumping people up with an “attitude is everything” approach.

Make no mistake: I strongly believe a positive attitude and a growth mindset is very impactful on motivation.

But I also think it’s unwise to focus on the attitudes of those we lead.

Because attitudes are ever-changing.

Sometimes a person with a peppy attitude can be a harmful influence.

For example, if I come in with an excited, take-charge, can-do attitude, I’d be ignoring the personalities and moods of others.

What if other members of my team prefer a slow, measured approach? My hyped-up attitude could stifle momentum and show disrespect.

If I notice, I may learn the wrong lesson, that having a great attitude is a bad idea.

On the flip side…

Everyone has bad attitude days.

If they’ve learned that “attitude is everything,” then on bad days, they may not even try.

If a team member thinks, “My attitude is lousy today, so I’m useless,” then their contribution will suffer and their day will probably be a bummer.

But that person is wrong about attitude: if their behavior contributes, the team will move forward, even on a bad day.

What to do.

So, when you are a leader and you see negative attitudes, avoid addressing the attitude. Instead, focus on the behavior, while also remaining empathetic.

Consider the contrast:

A focus on attitude: “Hey Julie, shape up that attitude! You’re bringing us down. Let’s fire up!”

A focus on behavior: “Say Julie, when you frown and stick to one word answers to open-ended questions, it keeps us from being as productive as possible. I’m sorry you’re having a rough day. We need your contributions, though, so can you soldier on and give us your thoughtful insights, please?”

Notice the difference?

So, focus on behavior instead of attitude and see what happens.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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