Scott Hamilton, a retired skater, gained global attention after winning the U.S. Championships and World Championships in skating four consecutive times from 1981 to 1984 and topping these with a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. But given his background, these feats would have been unimaginable. At the age of two, Hamilton contracted an illness that stalled his growth for a long while. The disease later corrected itself and he was able to grow, but at the peak of his amateur practice, he only weighed 49kg and was just 1.59m tall. He later had serious battle with brain tumour and had to go under the knife a number of times. But none of these was able to put him down. He was not given any chance by many but he did not reckon with that; he rose above his limitations and conquered his world. After his retirement from skating, he became a television star. According to him, his attitude was his strength; he never regarded himself as disabled, believing that there was nothing he set his mind upon to do that he could not accomplish. Hence, his memorable words: “the only disability in life is a bad attitude.”
What is attitude?
An attitude is a viewpoint about situations, people or places. It is a belief that informs reactions to, and handling of, issues, circumstances and persons. It is a perception that shapes behaviours. It is a mindset that determines what is done and how it is done. Social scientists are of the opinion that no one was born with any particular attitude, so, attitude is a learnt behaviour.
Attitude determines accomplishments; no one can outperform his attitude. Attitude is superior to aptitude because the latter does not solely determine success. If the aptitude is right but the attitude is wrong, the outcome will be far from right. A study carried out by Stanford Research Institute confirms this. According to the finding, success is comprised of 88 per cent attitude and only 12 per cent education (aptitude).
But if attitude can be learnt, it can also be unlearned. Therefore, no one needs to be enslaved to a wrong attitude. Like a worn out skirt or shirt, a bad attitude should be shed. A bad attitude is like a flat tyre, it can’t get anyone anywhere until it is changed.
Importance of attitude in leadership
A leader is, among other things, a model. Many people shape their lives by what they hear or see the leader say or do. So, the leader’s attitude determines that of his team members. If the leader’s attitude is right, this will percolate down to all members of the organization and the whole system is energized. With that, everything comes within the realm of possibility. If the leader’s attitude is wrong, he sends a wrong signal to the team and drains everyone of energy. Ordinarily achievable tasks become daunting. So, a leader must learn to choose the right attitude to avoid spreading poison among his team members.
One other thing about attitude is that it determines organizational culture. Culture is not superficial; it is entrenched and once formed is difficult to change. Therefore, it is vital that a leader refrains from doing anything that could implant a toxic culture in the organization.
Success-promoting attitudes that leaders need
Success does not happen in a vacuum; it is a consequence of embracing the right attitude. So, the following are some of the attitudes a leader needs to imbibe to facilitate organizational success.
Nothing works like a positive attitude. Positive attitude produces optimism and unleashes latent energy. It dulls worries and fears while playing up possibilities. Having a positive attitude is making a choice to see a situation from the bright side instead of viewing it from the horrible side. It is a determination to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. Positive attitude puts the dividing line between a leader who is able to steer his people from adversity to prosperity and one who leaves them enmeshed in their catastrophe.
Positivity is very important because as Napoleon Bonaparte observed, a leader is a dealer in hope. It is a leader’s responsibility to give his people hope. But he can only give them hope if he himself is full of hope and imbued with a positive attitude hinged on a belief that things will eventually work out well.
War-time British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, still stands out as one of the greatest leaders of that country. The mention of his name evokes nostalgia decades after his demise. The reason is that Churchill was an incurable optimist who infused his people with hope even when hoping was a hopeless venture. During the Second World War, virtually everything that could go wrong had gone wrong with Britain, but the Prime Minister refused to let go of his belief that the tide would turn in favour of his country. European countries were falling like a pack of cards to Hitler’s Germany, yet Churchill refused to capitulate. Rather, he kept raising the hope of the people through the vocalization of his belief.
When the war was raging and it looked as if his country was finally doomed to fall to Germany’s superior fire power, Churchill said, “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fall, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour!’”
At the end, he was not just able to win the hearts of the people through his inspiring words, the tide turned against Germany and Britain was saved from what seemed an imminent defeat. That is the power of optimism. Difficult situations always surrender to those who refuse to surrender to difficult situations.
Attitude of gratitude
Everyone wants to feel loved and valued because the yearning for appreciation is innate to man. The easiest way to show that an individual is valued is to express gratitude to him. When this comes from the leader, it enlivens the people and encourages them to put in more effort. But showing gratitude, especially for activities that are regarded as run of the mill, does not come naturally to many people. Most leaders wait till a team member achieves an earth-shattering or a record-breaking feat before showing them appreciation. That is not quite right because it is capable of sending a message to the team that their efforts are not valued. However, while accomplishment of tasks that are regarded as outstanding may attract incentives, those that fall into other categories should be noted and commended, even if verbally. Gratitude should be the second nature of a leader. It should flow freely from him and the leader should show how every activity that is appreciated contributes to the overall objective of the organization so that the appreciation may be fully appreciated by the recipients.
Commitment to improvement
Successful people are always looking for opportunities to improve themselves. They hold the view that there is nothing so good that it cannot be made better. They are also convinced that opportunities identified and eventually seized are always directly proportional to level of preparation. Therefore, they keep stretching themselves to get better so that when opportunities knock, they are not found wanting. What is regarded as a lucky break is nothing but preparation ahead of opportunity. The attitude of those who succeed greatly in life is that life is not a dress rehearsal but the real thing. So, they always seek self improvement to keep getting ahead of others.
Choose the difficult above the convenient
The route to an average life is the convenient road. Most people in life end up being ordinary because of their preference for convenience. Convenience cannot guarantee excellence, neither can it assure success. Great things are always first difficult before becoming easy. That is why many people miss the opportunity of greatness; they want easy things first. But as put by Warren Buffet, what the wise do in the beginning, fools do in the end. To be successful, it is necessary to develop an attitude of preferring the difficult to the convenient. The antidote to a hard life has not changed, it is still hard work.
Manage your expectations
Successful people expect the best from people but are prepared to get the worst from them. This is why they seem to have a strong shock absorber and are able to pick up the pieces of their lives and continue when the unexpected happens. The journey of life is not always a straight one but is full of twists and turns. Those who make a success of their lives are more often than not those who have learnt to manage their expectations and do not build their hope on what is completely beyond their control. They are moderated by Murphy’s Law which states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. So, they do not get unnecessarily excited about the success of a project that is still in the works.
While counseling about managing expectations, the inimitable William Shakespeare said, “I always feel happy, you know why? Because I don’t expect anything from anyone; expectations always hurt… Life is short… So love your life… Be happy… And keep smiling…
Staying calm under pressure
There are times when a leader comes under serious pressure. Everything turns topsy-turvy. Projections fail. Targets are missed. Sales are poor and all hell seems let loose. What the leader does at a time like this will either put the organization on the path to recovery or drive the nail further into its coffin. At times like this, great leaders remain calm on the outside even if they are experiencing turmoil on the inside. It is their calmness that assures team members that the present challenge is not insurmountable.
Having a crisis is not a problem; the real problem is what is done about what has happened. Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, gives a formula in that book thus; E + R = O, where E stands for event, R stands for response and O stands for outcome. According to Canfield, the event alone does not determine what happens; it is the response to what has happened that determines the outcome. So, if there is a crisis and the response to the crisis is right, a positive change will follow the crisis. However, if a crisis is followed by a negative response, it may lead to a cataclysmic change.
Leaders are able to stay calm in crisis situation because of their understanding that sunset is not a permanent situation but a mere prelude to sunrise. Consequently, they do not make the darkness, occasioned by sunset, their focus, but strategically prepare for the coming of the sun.
Keeping an eye on the ball
Great leaders never take their eyes off the ball; they remain committed to the original goal of the team and ensure that nothing is done to take them off course. They are conscious of the fact that their assessment will be based on what they do with the primary assignment. So, while they pay attention to other issues, they never allow themselves to be swayed off the original goal. They keep the vision in focus at all times.
A leader’s place in posterity is determined by his choice of attitudes.