By Mary-Anne Calvert, Founder of The Human Element
As every entrepreneur knows, if you have a team of people working with you in your business, you must deal with their performance, personal issues and attitudes, as much as you must deal with your own! Why this image for a post about attitude? Well, depending on your attitude, you may choose to focus on the heartbreaking results of the 2015 Cape fires – in this case a burnt-out tree in the Silvermine Nature Reserve, or notice the amazing resilience of the fynbos next to it that needs fire to germinate.
Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference and it can be your best friend or worst enemy. It can help you to achieve things you never thought possible, or it can limit everything you do. You know that it is contagious in a team and can influence your success or failure, but before you condemn anyone for having a “bad” attitude, it is important to understand how attitudes develop.
We are all subjected to four key aspects that condition our attitudes, i.e., our thinking, which in turn influences our behaviours and the results we see.
1. Our environment and the expectations created by it
The home we grew up in, the area where we live, the schools we attended, our culture and religion, etc., all have a role in influencing how we think. For example, I grew up in a home where both my parents worked and hard work was a family value. Because of this, I have no expectations of having anything handed to me on a platter and believe I must work hard for everything I have. If, however, I grew up in a wealthy home and was given everything I wanted, I may not be so keen to work hard now to achieve success!
We know too that people living or working in situations where they are surrounded by corruption, a poor work ethic and negative attitudes, often resort to these behaviours themselves, especially if their role models and authority figures condone this behaviour. What we should be cautious of though, is making assumptions about this, because people always have a choice. There are many shining examples of those who have been exposed to negative environments, but chose to take a very different path for themselves and are now sought-after, ethical employees with a great attitude.
2. The people in our lives
A classic example of how the people in our lives influence our attitude, is where women were (and in many cases still are) conditioned to believe that there are certain jobs that they cannot do. These influences have left many women in jobs way beneath their potential, and as entrepreneurs, we owe it to the women (and men) we employ to help them explore just how far they can go if given the opportunity. Thankfully countries like India are changing attitudes by opening combat roles to women as fighter pilots, while women at NASA are encouraged to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so there are a lot of new influencers to look forward to!
3. Our experiences
The experiences we have had in our lives can determine our attitude to people and situations. If I previously worked for a female boss who modelled herself on Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada”, I am unlikely to have a positive attitude when my male boss is replaced by a woman! Similarly, where people have experienced discrimination in some form, whether racial, religious, or gender-based, their attitude will often reflect their negative experiences.
4. What you believe me to be
People who are constantly told that the quality of the work they do is not good enough, or are treated as though they cannot be trusted, show attitudes and behaviours that reflect this. This is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy, where they become what you believe them to be. To adapt Henry Ford’s quote, “Whether you think I can or think I can’t, you are right”, so let’s help people believe they can!
Is it possible to change or improve attitudes that are recognized as detrimental to success?
Yes, it is - by changing the visible behaviours that result from the person’s thinking. A simple example of this is when a team member who thinks of herself as a loner or introvert, and doesn’t want to deal with customers (which is why she works in the back office), is asked to cover for the receptionist during her lunch time. Her attitude to and assumptions about people are likely to show when she doesn’t smile and isn’t helpful to the customers who walk through the door. You can help her change her behaviour by:
- Making her aware of the need to change her responses (because customers are the lifeblood of the business)
- Ensuring that she knows who to direct customers to for help (and reinforcing that she smiles when dealing with every customer)
- Creating a strong desire to change her responses (e.g., by complimenting her when she gets it right).
In practicing the new behaviours, your team member will find that the behaviours become a habit and are easier to do when your customers respond more positively to her. Over time her attitude and self-perception will change to fit the new behaviours, which can only help her and your business!
Changing or improving attitudes is obviously a time-consuming process and it is worth thinking about Albert Einstein’s quote, “Success is 80% attitude and 20% skill”. Perhaps we as entrepreneurs should consider the value of hiring for attitude and training for skill, rather than the other way around?
Mary-Anne Calvert is a South African entrepreneur passionate about learning, skills training and leadership development. She knows that smart companies and organizations understand the power of developing their employees’ full potential, and as a result, launched her business, The Human Element, Her company on a mission to make learning and development both impactful and fun for its clients. The Human Element provides leadership and soft skills development, performance coaching and business development, to nurture the potential of South Africans who are a talented, resilient and creative people.
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