Simply put, your attitude is the state of mind you present to the world. To succeed in the workplace, the sum of the factors that comprise your attitude must be positive, so it pulls you forward on your path to success. In my experience, a positive outlook helps leaders attain the improbable on a regular basis, both from themselves and through others. At a minimum, it will help you get through those inevitable times when everything looks dark and seems difficult.
When interviewing workplace superstars for upcoming books, something that used to surprise me (but doesn’t anymore) is with rare exception, they think positively. They’ve discovered a little secret—when your reach exceeds your grasp, you can accomplish amazing things with a positive attitude. I’ve interviewed many leaders who admit to not being so much smarter than everyone else, but their attitudes have taken them into leadership. In fact, attitude remains more or less intact as you rise up the hierarchy ladder. Indeed, at the higher elevations, it becomes your privilege—and your responsibility—to expand your positive attitude beyond your personal space to the entire team, department, or organization you lead.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, I believe your attitude can be broken down into three primary areas:
1. Motivation: Maintain an upbeat approach
2. Drive: Never give up
3. Proactivity: Look ahead
These comprise the basic building blocks of a positive attitude. They are always the same, no matter where you stand in an organization. It’s hard work, no doubt—but hard work with a purpose. You have to decide to have a positive attitude every day. This doesn’t get any easier as you rise in the organization, despite a pervasive belief to the contrary. If it does, you’ve probably done something wrong. Think an Enron, Circuit City, or Hostess Brands kind of wrong, the kind that ultimately implodes on you.
Here’s what I mean by this. While you’ll always have people upstream and downstream from you whom you affect by your attitude in one way or another, when you’re an individual contributor at a lower level, you don’t yet have a lot of influence. If you mess around and don’t get a report done on time, you might annoy your boss somewhat, but the implications won’t spread much farther. If you annoy the boss enough, you might find yourself out of a job…but still, that’s about as far as it will go.
But as you rise up the proverbial ladder and level of abstraction, you also rise in influence. Whether you like it or not, the people who work for you will look to you for guidance, while anyone above you will eye you with certain expectations. Therefore, when you’ve finally hit the heights, your drive to maximize your personal competence and situation must evolve into a drive to maximize your team/organizational competence and situation as well. The people who work for you expect leadership, and you can be sure your attitude—whatever it may be—will be adopted and role modeled by most of them. If you don’t maintain a positive attitude of striving toward excellence, then others will assume your stance is acceptable…though it certainly is not in a world-class organization.
In short, negativity is infectious, and complacence breeds complacence, in a vicious feedback loop you’ll find hard to escape and even harder to correct. Worse, even those employees who attempt to maintain a positive attitude may end up dragged down by those who couldn’t care less. The result will be a toxic work environment where the best workers are continually up against negativity and can’t accomplish anything, so they don’t stay long. Even if they do, their expectations become warped. Your actions always speak louder than your words, especially in an all-encompassing environment like the workplace, where people spend half their waking lives.
Does it sound like the weight of the world lies on a leader’s shoulders? In a way, it does. The weight you feel is one of the prices you pay for the ambition that helped you advance in the first place. If you want to enjoy the higher-level perks, you’ll need a higher-level attitude. What an exciting prospect though—you get to shape the organization toward your own personal vision! So choose to maintain that strong, healthy attitude, and you’ll achieve a winning outcome for yourself and everyone around you.