Attitudes: An Advantage to Any Leader’s Survival Guide

Research done by Hugh Montgomery, cardiovascular genetics consultant at the University College London, identified nine factors that make a difference to the chance of survival for individuals in life-threatening situations. At the top of the list was genetics, which is considered somewhat outside of our control. However, with the other eight factors that are under our control, at the top of the list are attitudes, the strength of one’s intent to survive. The definition of intent can be described here as the choice to think, talk, feel, and act in a certain way to influence a positive desired outcome for life.

Though survival for an organization and leadership may not ever be truly life threatening (potentially debatable), leaders can certainly encounter types of survival and deaths in many ways. In the great words of Zig Ziglar, “Positive thinking won’t let you do anything, but it will let you do everything better than negative thinking will do. You need to consider your attitude as seriously as you would consider the largest purchase of your life.

If our attitudes are a factor for our survival and a form of currency for what we manifest, we need to consider – “What are we currently investing?”

Leaders Influence Employees Attitudes

We define attitudes as a choice regarding our characteristics and mindsets. The choice can range on a spectrum from complete positivity to complete negativity, or any degree of positivity or negativity in between. When it comes to who’s choice, it’s ours, as individuals, first and foremost. As leaders though, we can certainly influence our employees’ attitudes in three primary ways:

  • Our Own Personal Attitudes –  Attitudes can be contagious.  This is a phenomenon known as emotional contagion. And guess who’s attitudes are more contagious in an organization in many opinions? That’s right, a leader’s!
  • The Experience That We Create – Attitudes can be developed.  Leaders can create a positive or negative experience for direct reports in a number of ways i.e. recognition, work assignments, supervision, etc., which can then develop a positive or negative attitude in the employee.
  • Our Communication – Attitudes can be triggered.  The most successful leaders trigger positive attitudes in employees by communicating about what they want to have happen and/or winning, versus more unsuccessful leaders who trigger negative attitudes in employees by communicating about what they don’t want to have happen and/or losing. For a basic example, there’s an attitudinal difference with a psychological impact in the following two statements: “Please don’t be late!” versus “Please be on time!”

Workplace Attitudes That Reflect Leadership

There is a great post written by John Maxwell which discusses two types of workers in our organizations: polluters and purifiers.  Both terms can be symbolic for leaders with either negative or positive attitudes in the workplace. Are we polluting or purifying? One way to answer this question is to consider what attitudes your team and organization reflect.

Attitudes towards Excellence: Steve Jobs was quoted as saying repeatedly, “There has got to be a better way.”  Depending on our own attitude, we may consider this statement a negative judgement towards Apple’s current products and operations, or we may consider it a positive choice towards how Apple can be better, with future products and operations.  When considering Steve Jobs comment further, what if we find truth in Aristotle’s statement “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Is excellence what we did, or what we continue to do? Is the best way, what we did, or just the best way that we’ve done so far, and maybe there’s a better way to be done in the future? If you purify, your team is likely demonstrating an attitude towards excellence that is really about the best days being ahead, and creating those best days.  If you pollute, your team is likely demonstrating an attitude towards excellence that it’s really about good enough, and maintaining or coasting.

Attitudes towards Responsibility: Locus of control is a theory in psychology referring to the tendency for people to place the primary responsibility for one’s success or failures with either oneself (internally), or an outside force (externally).  Locus is Latin for ‘location’. When we consider successes and failures at work, do our direct reports own them? Are they accountable? Are they responsible for their decisions and behaviours? If you purify as a leader, the answer would be most often ‘yes’ to these questions, which are all examples of positive attitudes towards responsibility, where an individual takes internal control.  If you pollute, your direct reports will likely have an attitude towards responsibility where the control is based on an external force, and they can rationalize, make excuses, finger point, counter attack, justify, defend, and blame. When a leader is a purifier, the attitude towards responsibility is focused on personal power and what can be controlled or influenced. When a leader is a polluter, the attitude towards responsibility is focused on the power that everyone and everything else has, and what can’t be controlled or influenced.

Attitudes towards our Job and our Organization: Employee satisfaction is our attitude towards our jobs and the work that we do. When a leader is a purifier, they have satisfied employees who have a positive attitude towards total pay and benefits, advancement opportunities, their bosses, their team members, recognition, training and personal growth, working conditions, and liking the work they do. When a leader is a polluter, they most likely have dissatisfied employees who are concerned with the needs that aren’t met (even if there are just a few). Employee engagement is more about our attitudes towards our organization. Again, leaders who purify, have engaged employees who have a positive attitude towards their organization, typically involving a deep emotional connection with the purpose, importance, and meaningfulness of the work that they do. Highly engaged employees want to be more involved and contribute more effort and time to their organization. Leaders who pollute, typically have disengaged employees who are checked-out, sleep walking, and want to only be involved and contribute at the minimal level required.

Why Care About Attitudes as a Leader

When we have negative attitudes – negative talking, thinking, feeling, and behaviours – that can become habitual and limit our lives and our potential.   This is when we have a classic “Attitude Problem”.  When we have positive attitudes – positive talking, thinking, feeling, and behaviours – that can also become habitual and expand our lives and our potential.   This is when we have a classic “Attitude Advantage”.

With Leaders Who Influence an Attitude Advantage:

  • We have an organizational culture that’s spreading positive attitudes and emotions for a healthy work environment.
  • We have a workforce that doesn’t let negative experiences permanently detract from the possibilities of a better future.
  • We have teams whose communication is focused on success – the wins, not the losses.
  • We have individuals who are prioritizing their best, and being better today and tomorrow than they were yesterday.
  • We have individuals who have complete ownership of their responsibilities to the organization and team.
  • And we have individuals who are satisfied and engaged with each other, the why and the what of the work that they do, and the people that they serve.

So why care? Well – Think for just a moment on the points above and all the ways that an organization could not only survive but thrive with these advantages.  The value is there. What are you investing?

Want to check your attitude? Take the complimentary Attitude Self-Assessment.

Author: Randy Kennett

Randy is the Founder and Director of Learning and Client Services at Hone Consulting, where the priorities of their acclaimed training programs and coaching services are about teaching team members and leaders to be more effective team players to achieve greater teamwork. Randy is an international trainer and post-secondary business instructor, working with Fortune 500 Companies, and organizations of all sizes from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, bringing his 20+ years of career experience and credentials in human resources, business and adult education. He enjoys working with individuals of all positions, from entry level to CEOs, and volunteering with community leadership and youth development programs. To experience more of Randy’s work, sign-up for his free ebook and/or newsletter, and check out his complimentary four part training series from Team Player Fundamentals.

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