Attitude adjustment – is it possible?

Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford

Most business people have heard the quote from Mr. Ford, not exactly a contemporary guy. Many have been exposed to Zig Ziglar’s, “Your attitude will determine your altitude”; Dale Carnegie and “the Power of Positive Thinking”; and Chuck Swindoll’s vintage essay on “Attitude”. It is a well-known principle that attitude has a huge impact on outcomes, performance, and results. However, for many people, it’s a struggle to manage their attitude, and that gap is a huge barrier, more like a canyon between what they know should be done and what they do. It’s a great example of the gap between knowing and doing. When this gap exists, the question then becomes, can your attitude really be adjusted when it needs to be?

The question itself offers the first clue, “when it needs to be”. Many people will talk themselves into thinking that they need to change, even when they don’t believe it themselves. They react to outside feedback, criticism, or judgment and make statements to themselves that it really is time for a change. However, if they don’t really have an emotional connection to, and desire for the new way, all their efforts will fall short. They feel like they’re on the right track because they’ve made up their mind, the challenge is that they haven’t really changed their mind.

Since attitudes are really habits of thought, if change is necessary, they need to be approached with the focus on the habit side. Although someone makes up their mind that they are finally going to teach their employees how to do something, rather than doing it themselves, when that person comes in to ask how to get something done and there’s a deadline looming, that manager just grabs it and takes care of it herself. The will and reason for a change may be there but the habit lingers. An old riddle illustrates how this happens, try this out.

There are three frogs on a log and 2 decide to jump off. How many are left on the log?

Got it? The answer is…three. Deciding and doing can be two very different things. With attitude, the spark is a change of mind that’s strong enough to propel us to new action. Having an attitude change that’s strong enough to overcome the momentum of the habit requires:

  • A significant, meaningful reason
  • A clear and positive benefit
  • An emotional connection

These requirements for individual change translate into organizational change processes as well. An organization’s culture is basically comprised of the collective attitudes of the people employed. If a culture is to be changed to improve results, good leaders know that they need to impact the attitudes of the group involved. Whether it’s a new team coming together, a merger of equals or an acquisition of a company, the savvy leader realizes that the new group must be aligned in attitude for the entity to be successful. Too often, mergers and acquisitions fail because they are focused on the logical and administrative reasons why the new entity will be a success, with little regard to the impact of separate attitudes, or the collective habits of thought of the two entities.

There are years of proof about the impact of attitude on effectiveness, results and overall success. When faced with a personal change for yourself, or an organizational change as a leader, remember that deeply embedded habits need to be effectively addressed or the change will be doomed to fail.

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