Plaque hanging in my friend’s office: “Your intelligence will get you hired, but your character will allow you to keep your job.”
I read a study that two-thirds of the people who were fired from their jobs were fired because they couldn’t get along with people, not because of technical difficulties. Put another way, they had attitude problems.
We have a poster that reads, “Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?” It has a picture of five side-by-side matches – with the first one ablaze – and the second on the verge of igniting. There is little doubt that all five matches will be engulfed in flames in a short time. When you come home from work or school and another family member is in a bad mood … how long does it take before you catch their attitude?
Most people avoid individuals with a naturally negative attitude and gravitate toward individuals possessing a positive attitude. I have learned that a persistent positive attitude (PPA) can allow anyone to overcome their shortcomings. You will be amazed what people will overlook if they know you always have a smile on your face and good intentions in your being. With a PPA, you don’t have to be the best looking, bravest, or brightest – all you need is an attitude worth catching.
Taylor Hicks, during the weeks of competition leading up to his American Idol victory in 2006, fully demonstrated the benefits of a PPA. He didn’t have the best voice (Elliot and Mandisa probably had better voices). He wasn’t the most attractive (Ace charmed the women more). His grey hair certainly didn’t fit the image of past American Idols. But in every interview, every comment, every facial expression he personified a persistent positive attitude. In addition to that, on stage he continually brought forth an energetic, enthusiastic, and engaging demeanor. Taylor had an attitude worth catching … and the American public caught it.
During my career I interviewed hundreds of applicants for job placement with employers, clients, and eventually my own consulting firm. During the latter, when I was searching for entry level computer programmers, I called my friend, the Dean of Computer Science at Siena College. I gave him some guidelines for the skills and aptitudes I was looking for in a job candidate. On his recommendation, I hired an ‘A’ student that had all of the technical qualifications down pat. But, shortly after he started, he began complaining about everything. He didn’t like the projects we assigned to him. He thought he should receive more pay for the tasks we were asking him to do. He didn’t like the temperature in our office. Some people say, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Well sometimes, “The squeaky wheel gets replaced.” I decided to replace this wheel.
After this debacle, I decided to take a different approach in defining my hiring requirements. I contacted the Dean and told him about my displeasure with having a 4.0 student who couldn’t work with us. I did not want to go there again – especially since we were beginning an experimental project. A project where requirements would constantly change, supervision would be minimal, and dialogue would be essential. This time the Dean suggested an individual who had a ‘B’ average, and he added, “This guy gets along with everyone.” To make a long story short, we hired him and he became an integral team player on our new project. Maybe his grades weren’t the best, but he was creative, resourceful, and most of all – a pleasure to work beside. His PPA was much greater than his GPA.
Over all my years of employment and consulting, the one compliment I’m most proud of receiving was given to me by Joe Byrne, a Vice President of Marketing for Mead Paper Company. The day Joe left the company he stopped by my office and said to me: “I always liked working with you because of your can-do spirit. Whenever I had a systems project, I came to you because I knew you would find a way to make it happen. There are plenty of people who will tell me why something can’t be done. But you didn’t do that. You always looked at what it would take to get the job done. And then you did it. Thank you.” Joe’s kind words cause me to recall a favorite saying of mine:
“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, bring your own sunshine.”
My daughter, Courtney, embodies this saying … so much so that her nickname at work is “Sunshine.” Displaying a persistently positive attitude sets a good example for others. Remember Einstein’s remark – “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” Feeling good about yourself, wearing a can-do smile on your face – these things go a long way in setting the tone for your personal space and the people who inhabit that space. A teacher once described it as follows:
I have come to a frightening conclusion that I can be the decisive element in my school. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make school life miserable and joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a person humanized or de-humanized.
To limit this advice to the realm of the teacher does not serve it full justice. I believe it’s applicable to parents, children, co-workers, friends, and even strangers. We all have the power to humiliate. We all have the power to humanize. And it all starts with having a persistently positive attitude.
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Next Time: Dare to Humanize