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Attitude matters–more than you realize

How your vibe can make or break your career.

As it turns out, your mother, father, teacher, coach and scout leader were right. Having a good attitude can get you far in life. In fact, attitude is so important that it impacts every element of your existence, from your social circle to your career.

Attitude might be described, in part, as the lens through which you see things. If you’re focusing on the negative, that’s all you notice. On the flip side, if you’ve got your rose-colored glasses on, the good around you is highlighted. “One of the biggest things is that what you put out there is reflected back at you,” explains Curt Rosengren, career expert and author of 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work.

A positive attitude attracts even more positive opportunities—and significantly boosts your chances of on-the-job success—so it’s well worth taking the time and effort to convey one.

Defining moments

Attitude, according to Carl L. Harshman, Ph.D., founder and CEO of the Institute for Work Attitude & Motivation, “is a human characteristic we put labels on that we can’t see or touch.”

Rather, we can feel it, and we know a good one when we meet it. “Is it about me or we, about openness or closed-mindedness?” ponders Rosengren. “If I have a good attitude, I’m working hard, looking for ways to help, collaborating,” he explains.

Despite its intangible nature, attitude has a measureable impact on performance. Notably, a study by leadership training and management consulting firm Leadership IQ found that a whopping 46 percent of new hires will fail within 18 months. The reason? Many of them can’t accept feedback, don’t have a handle on their emotions, lack ambition or simply aren’t well-suited for the job.

Aptitude or attitude?

The same study indicates that 11 percent of new hires fail because they lack the necessary technical skills to succeed. This suggests that the attitude you bring to the job may factor more heavily into your performance than the skill set you possess.

Why does this matter? If you’re up against a job candidate with education and experience on his or her side, you can stay in the game by wowing the hiring manager with your adaptability to change, facility for learning and openness to growth.

“If you can demonstrate a can-do attitude and have the stories to back it up, it has the potential to shift the balance in your favor,” insists Rosengren. “Attitude is what you have the most control over, and it can be one of your biggest gifts.”

Adds Harshman, “Skill probably isn’t necessarily a sufficient condition to succeed. The other piece of the puzzle that plays heavily is attitude and motivation.”

How you show up

The Leadership IQ study showed, particularly, that an employee’s openness to coaching, emotional intelligence, drive and general nature are indicative of his or her likeliness to succeed or fail within the first couple of years on the job.

This plays out in the day to day at work, and everyone is watching. When faced with a challenging project, do you approach it with an eye on solutions and the best possible outcome, rallying your team to excel? Or do you see fault in every proposed measure, what Harshman calls “problem orientation,” forever looking for what is wrong and operating as if you’re already doomed to failure, bringing down the rest of your team in the process?

Reaping what you sow

The payoff is pretty simple. First, attitude has an internal impact on how you feel and on your capacity for developing yourself further. Negativity is draining and limiting by nature, while positive attributes tend to be energizing and enable growth.

“In many ways, I think attitude is a determinate of bandwidth,” says Rosengren. “Does it create openness or constriction? The more you have a positive attitude, the bigger the pipeline is for skills and knowledge to come through and shine.”

Externally, your attitude leaves a strong impression on others that can drive their behavior around you. “There’s the idea that people want to work with people they know, like and trust,” explains Rosengren.

If you’re generally regarded as the office downer, “supervisors are less likely to see you as someone who has the qualifications to advance and perhaps will be less inclined to support your growth,” he says.

Conversely, if you’re tackling your work with a smile and a desire to do your best, people take notice. “[Supervisors] are going to be more likely to help you get a leg up versus someone who is a walking, talking source of cortisol,” he adds.

In short, attitude matters. Bring your “A” game, and you’ll find yourself with greater opportunity for success—and that’s something to feel optimistic about.