Attitude is Everything

When it comes to leadership, attitude is everything.  We could leave it there and let you fill in the rest.

But what fun would that be? Let’s flesh it out. While the phrase seems cliché there are valid work related reasons to pay attention. For example, a business article in Time ( highlighted a study:

Of “20,000 new hires at Fortune 500 companies” — “nearly half of them failed within 18 months … 89 percent of those failures stemmed from “attitudinal reasons”.”

Doing a little math in public, that’s roughly 8,900 out of 20,000 people that failed at their jobs as a result of attitude issues.

Consider this from a small unit perspective. For a flight of 20 people, that would be 8 or more people failing; in a squadron of 200 about 90 people failing…simply due to attitude. The numbers are huge. Hopefully in our military culture we have things a little more under control, but if we’re not careful those stats could represent our organizations too. Those numbers are also based on Fortune 500 companies with deliberate hiring processes where not just anyone is hired. In theory they only hire the most likely to succeed and it’s possible their results are close to reality for the Air Force as well, which is a sobering thought.

So let’s dive in and start with these three things:
– Attitudes are contagious.
– Leaders, don’t ping.
– Behave as if you’re the next higher rank up.


First, attitudes are contagious.

JamesTake for example James, the newspaper guy who cheerfully greets commuters every morning as we get off the train. There are days when a morning train ride into Washington DC isn’t wonderful (in other news it’s dark at night, and water is wet). A commute can start with fighting for parking, jockeying in line, and getting on a train as a full contact sport. People may sneeze on you, poke bags and elbows in your sides, and mash your shined shoes. It can be 45 minutes of morning mood souring. When the doors open everyone dashes off to work, right over you if you’re not careful. James greets this mob of commuters every day with a smile, offers a free Metro newspaper, and wishes everyone a good day. I look forward to stopping and chatting with James, and if I walk by without seeing him he pipes up across the crowd “Colonel, you have a good day, sir!”

Right then my day changes for the better. I get a smile on my face which I bring to the office. The chief admin assistant to the SES-5 we work for told me she’s going to miss me when I move, because no matter what issues are crashing down on us her day always starts in a positive way from talking with me. Thank you, James.

Consider what your attitude is doing to other people. Does your attitude inspire those around you, or is it destructive to good team work? What about the subordinate leaders you’re in charge of? Does your attitude bring out the best in them, so that when they interact with the rest of your flight or squadron everyone is improved? Or does it tear the team down? Do the leaders you’re mentoring have an attitude you want spread through your team? If they’re going to lower the mood of the organization you need to do something about it. It’s possible you are the root cause, it’s also possible they are unaware of the impact their attitude has on others. Either way you owe it to your unit to address it. The last thing our troops deserve is to have poor leadership attitudes inflicted upon them, and if you’re the leader fixing it starts with you.

Next… leaders, don’t ping. Ever. cropped-img_3555.jpg

Nearly everyone is stressed and concerned about doing the right things the right way. To some extent that’s good, it keeps people focused. But if you start acting wildly anxious and nervous, so will they, and any productive edge from a little stress will devolve rapidly. Be the duck, calm on the surface, even if your feet are paddling wildly underneath. Your relaxed demeanor will keep others calm…it’s contagious.

The opposite is true as well, if you get overly excited and animated, others will mimic your behavior and each successive person will amplify it futher. By the time the example being set reaches the youngest airmen in your unit people may be nothing more than quivering masses of nervous energy. Resist any temptation to ping, it’s just not worth it. You have the self control to maintain composure or you wouldn’t be in a leadership position to begin with.

Seriously, don’t ping, ever. This is such an important behavioral aspect that the Dean at Air War College beat it into our heads. If there was only one thing our thick skulls could remember he insisted it be that we never lose control in front of our airmen.

Now that you’ve mastered the above, act like you already wear the next higher rank.

Choose to live the attitude that you are performing at the next rank, you’re just not wearing it yet. If you’re a captain, work as if you are a major. If you’re a senior airman, perform like you’re a staff sergeant. If you’re a… okay you get it.

Not only do you need to behave like you’re a rank higher than you hold, you need to encourage others to do the same. Once again, it’s contagious. If they see you do it, they will too. The net effect raises the performance of the entire organization. Trust me, it works, but only if you as a leader set the example and tell others you trust them to do the same. Word will spread, performance will rise, and morale will follow.

Doubt it? Then try and see if it’s not true.

Remember, attitude is everything, and it’s contagious. Control your attitude, it’s a choice you make. And do your best to influence the attitude of everyone on your team. Good things will come of it.


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