But beware; you can burn out a ‘can-do’ person by overwhelming them

(Editor's note: This is Part 3 of a 10-part series examining the building blocks of effective L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. This time? A = attitude.)

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.”  --Herm Albright


There’s nothing more destructive of our first two l.e.a.d.e.r.s.h.i.p. building blocks -- loyalty and excellence -- than a bad attitude.

Attitude is an unarguable characteristic of successful leadership and superior performance, and for many reasons. On one side, a positive attitude is a breath of fresh air to which we naturally gravitate.

It is usually accompanied by a can-do attitude, a commitment to excellence, a desire to be a collaborative teammate, a willingness to take on new challenges in foreign environments, a general approach that sees the glass half-full rather than half-empty.

No challenge is too great because a positive attitude is the sorcerer of the unbridled optimism that helps us overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It also a magnet for new opportunities and as we know, success is achieved when opportunity meets excellence.

On the other side, a bad attitude is a lethal virus that undermines a collaborative culture. You will meet a successful executive with a bad attitude about as often as you'll see someone taking her cat for a walk. If that rare occasion occurs, be sure to run the other way because it’s contagious and an unambiguous confirmation of an organization you don't want to join.

A bad attitude has a long life with great visibility. Even the body language of someone with a bad attitude sours the air for everyone in the vicinity. Such individuals are always complaining, think they're the only ones getting the most boring tasks, feel under-appreciated, undervalued and underpaid; and are the last to volunteer for anything that's inconvenient.

A common corollary is embedded in a phrase you’ve probably heard -- and witnessed on many occasions: “Ask a busy person to do something and they always have time. The person with nothing to do is always too busy."

That’s really about the difference in attitude. Those with a positive attitude are always willing to try, to do more and to serve those around them. An individual with a bad attitude rejects anything outside of the routine and relishes the completion of his own work. He never has enough time to perform his basic tasks and avoids all else.

Attitude is at the top of my list when I'm interviewing job candidates. There is no more predictive characteristic of success, and certainly no more convincing indicator of someone you want on your team, regardless of any deficiencies they may have.

It’s very rare to find someone with a positive attitude who isn't good at something important to your organization's success. So inevitably, that person will find a meaningful role in your organization. That one is adaptable, willing to change, go the extra mile, help out a struggling colleague, do all of things that are the fuel of a collaborative environment.

Be aware, however, that it's pretty easy to extinguish a positive attitude. Those individuals tend to be the "go to" people in most organizations because they get things done. Yet, if everyone is seeking them out, they’re likely to be overwhelmed, overburdened and soon unproductive, propelled by their willingness to help and serve, but an unwitting victim of their own success.

The good news is that attitude is the one thing that we own, and that we can change. Our attitude is entirely ours.

Sure, we’ve all blamed others for our bad attitude on occasion. But it's ours, lock, stock and barrel, as they say. We can change it, suppress it, bury it, but it’s ours to control. Take charge of your attitude, and you'll find that it's the key to overcoming many of the barriers to the success you seek.

Contrarily, a bad attitude is not easily curable by outsiders, since it is usually deeply entrenched and isn’t easily uprooted by corrective action, coaching or leadership changes. If you catch it early enough, you may be able to turn it around in some measure, but its foundation is complex and deeply anchored.

You’ll find plenty of examples in Robert Sutton’s book The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. Don’t spend too much time trying to fix a bad attitude if there’s any resistance.

So, make sure you “own your attitude,” and that it’s a positive one. It’s the best security against the evil forces that threaten your plans for world domination, and a sure route to becoming an effective leader and invaluable resource to others in your universe.


Lary Kirchenbauer is the President of Exkalibur Advisors, providing practical business strategies for middle market businesses. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy. You can subscribe to his newsletter at the Exkalibur web site at www.Exkalibur.com. You’ll also find a library of valuable resources, including a new video and podcast library as well as articles and insights related to middle-market businesses.