It’s easy to say that having the right attitude can improve productivity, but how can managers inspire the kind of mindset that achieves results? Dr. Roy Whitten explores some fail-safe techniques.
Attitude has become one of the latest buzzwords for leaders who want to transform the performance of their teams.
Its current popularity is both helpful and unhelpful; it certainly brings the subject of mindset and motivation to the forefront of discussion about the skills required of great leaders.
But it also invites shallow analysis and “quick fixes” that are easy to apply yet fail to stand up under the pressures of professional life.
Central to performance
Attitude is far more than simply being “positive” or “negative.” It goes to the heart of what motivates and drives our behaviour in response to challenges and possibilities.
Attitude incorporates who we think we are, what matters to us, and what we ultimately want. It determines how we think and what we do.
Elite athletes have long recognised the role attitude plays in performance. I remember tennis superstar Billie Jean King telling me 30 years ago that “staying in the zone” had been the secret to her success.
Over the past decades, there has been a growing recognition among business leaders and researchers that the ability to maintain an open, receptive, and proactive state of mind is a fundamental key to success.
Influential writers, among them Frederic Laloux, Steven Covey and Ken Blanchard, have identified some of attitude’s key components: integrity, proactivity, will, humility, self-direction, and wholeness.
Attitude means results
It is clear that there is a direct relationship between someone’s attitude and the results he can create. However, it is also clear that only the person himself can change his attitude.
These two facts generate an important question for all leaders: How do you get your people to want to do what the business needs them to do?
To answer this question, leaders must learn how to manage attitude; first for themselves, and then within their teams.
When this skill is learned and its application required, everyone can maintain a state of mind that creates results instead of inhibiting them.
Managing attitude requires learning a skill that we call “reclaim”, the ability in the moment to regain a state of mind that enables peak performance.
It requires people to master four steps:
1. Notice when attitude slips
Oddly enough, this is the hardest part. Nearly always, other people see our attitude drop before we do.
To develop an awareness of their own attitude, we ask people to describe what they are like when their attitude is “up” and when it is “down.” We call these two states of mind “above the line” and “below the line”.
Their descriptions always have these elements in common: being “up” is an experience of being committed, relaxed, objective, creative, and enjoying oneself, and “being down” is a state of frustration, difficulty, ineffectiveness, anxiety, and stress.
2. Choose to change it
We fall “below the line” in reaction to something unexpected or unwanted. During a recent coaching season a CEO told me: “It doesn’t take much. Just seeing his name in my inbox drags me down.”
Choosing to get back “above the line” requires giving up the luxury of complaining, giving excuses, and hanging on to resentment about what happened.
We use the FIX model (Facts + Interpretation = eXperience) to help people accept that there are two causes for a drop in their attitude.
Facts refer to what actually happens – be that bad news, the thoughtless behaviour of others, a failure to achieve something. These can instantly drive one’s attitude “below the line.” We do not have control over this.
Interpretation, however, occurs after the moment has passed. At lightning speed, our brain draws conclusions about what happened – this was unfair, they can’t be trusted, there’s nothing I can do – and then it makes predictions – I have to give up, I have to soldier on, they will never give me a chance.
This continuous, cyclical mental process is what keeps our attitude “below the line” long after the facts are over.
Don’t try to unsnarl this mental web of assumption and speculation. Just admit it’s happening, that it’s robbing you of the clarity and strength you need to respond to what happened, and choose to get back “above the line” so you can get on with the job.
3. Shift it immediately
Shifting attitude requires two simple things that take a surprising amount of mental discipline: a) getting oneself into the “present moment,” and b) admitting what one genuinely wants.
To help people become present, we teach a modern application of an ancient technique we call “split attention” (see video tutorial, below).
It involves continuing to focus on what you were doing before your attitude dropped, while at the same time focusing part of your attention on something physical, something you can feel, for example your breath.
Once someone is focused in the “here and now,” they can explore what they want and why they want it. This is another simple task that can be surprisingly difficult at first, but which yields to persistence.
When people manage to do both of these things at the same time, even for only 30-45 seconds, they will nearly always feel their attitude move back “up” again.
4. Take the best next step
When someone’s attitude moves back “above the line,” they can discover what David Allen calls, the “very next step” toward getting what they really want. This is a simple, critical, conclusion to the process.
All this is simple, but not easy. It takes practice. Keep at it, and you will find that reclaiming a healthy and effective attitude is something that everyone can do. Great leaders master this skill and require their people to join them in practising it – results follow.