Attitude Reflects Leadership

Attitude and Leadership

My question for you today is a simple one: ”How’s Your Attitude?” Show me a CEO with a bad attitude and I’ll show you a poor leader. While this sounds simple enough at face value, I have consistently found one of the most often overlooked leadership attributes is having a consistently positive attitude. As a CEO, how can you expect to inspire, motivate, engender confidence, and to lead with a lousy attitude? The simple answer is that you can’t – it just won’t work. In today’s post I’ll examine the importance of CEOs having a positive attitude…

I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to watch one of my clients deliver a keynote at a national conference, and while I expected nothing less than an outstanding presentation, what I ended-up witnessing was a true masterclass in the contagious, inspirational power that comes from positive leadership. What made this presentation so powerful was it was more than just an act put on for the benefit of the attendees, it was completely authentic and the audience knew it. This is a relatively new client, but I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt, his positivity sets the tone for the entire organization and has produced incredible results. Let me be clear – don’t underestimate the power of a positive attitude.

Clearly the topic of “attitude” has been addressed ad-nauseum in many a self-help piece, but this doesn’t mean that it is not worthy of topical consideration for chief executives. Leaders are not perfect, and as CEO, trust me when I tell you you’re going to have your fair share of bad days. The difference between you the CEO, and everyone else on the planet is you don’t have the luxury of displaying a bad attitude.

Why then do so many CEOs appear to have a bad attitude? While there are certainly a variety of reasons (ego, arrogance, pride, etc.) for why a CEO can display a bad attitude, I believe in many instances it’s because they have fallen prey to a bad habit. Yes, attitudes are formed, and a bad attitude is nothing more than an ingrained habit. The good news is that habits can be broken. So, this begs the question how does a CEO know when they have a bad attitude? If you answer yes to any one of the following five questions, then you are likely in need of an attitude adjustment:

  1. Are your likeability and respect ratings low? While being a great CEO is not a popularity contest, the fact is most great CEOs are both well liked and respected. They have the full faith and trust of their stakeholders, and possess strong positive relationships across constituencies. What do you reflect, and what do people see in you? If you are not well liked and respected then you will have consistent, self-imposed obstacles placed in your path that inhibit your ability to be an effective leader. Ask yourself this question – If an election for CEO was held today, would your stakeholders re-elect you in a landslide victory? If not, why not?
  2. Do you tend to have a pessimistic outlook on things? If you aren’t excited about the start of each day, display a “same crap…different day” attitude, or have a “glass is half empty” perspective on things, then you likely have a bad attitude.
  3. Do people seek your input, advice, and counsel? If people see you coming and quickly run the other way, you have an attitude problem. Great CEOs are magnets who attract the attention of others. If people shy away from you versus clamor for your attention, you likely have an attitude problem.
  4. Are you often frustrated wondering why others don’t see things your way? Everyone can have a bad day, and while it’s okay to have a pity-party every once in a while, it is not the kind of party you want to throw very often, and never publicly. If the majority of your conversations and interactions are negative or confrontational you likely have an attitude problem.
  5. Do you have difficulty attracting and retaining tier-one executive talent? The simple truth is people strongly desire to work with and for great leaders. Great CEOs are talent magnets – people want to be led by those who have much to offer. If you struggle with recruiting, team building, and leadership development you likely have a bad attitude.

If you still don’t know whether or not your attitude is affecting your performance, I would strongly suggest participation in a 360 review process where your strengths and weakness are objectively assessed by those whom you interface with on a frequent basis. Lastly, following are few statistics that might convince you to change your outlook on life if you tend to be a pessimist:

  1. People with bad attitudes have an 800% higher incident rate of being diagnosed with clinical depression.
  2. People who possess a negative outlook on life are four times more likely to suffer a stroke, heart attack, or be diagnosed with cancer.
  3. People who have bad attitudes have more career turnover.
  4. People with bad attitudes have a 50% higher divorce rate.
  5. People with bad attitudes are ten times more likely to have poor relationships with their children.

If your attitude is impeding your relationships, your talent, or your health, it might be time to consider making some changes. If you have any great stories about how attitudes impact leadership and morale please share them in the comments section below.


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    Mike Myatt

    January 20, 2011 at 3:01 am

    Very well said Jim…to take it one step further, leadership is a privilege and not a right. If you accept the aforementioned statement as true then a leader’s display of anything other than a positive attitude is arrogance at best, and hypocrisy at worst. Thanks as always for the keen insights Jim.


    January 20, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Great post Mike. One of our concepts is “Leaders are never sarcastic.” That’s attitude. You have to trust a leader with the first words out of his or her mouth. If you have to think whether they mean it, are they kidding, are they just using humor – trust dissipates. Great post.


    January 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Another great post Mike.Stonewall Jackson understood very well how “attitude reflects leadership” and impacts the morale of subordinates. He wrote a letter to his wife, while in winter quarters, to explain why he could not come visit her and his daughter: “Whilst it would be a great comfort to see you and my little daughter, duty requires me to remain here. As the officers and men are not permitted to visit their wives and families, I ought not to see my esposita — as it might make the men feel that I consult my own comfort regardless of theirs.” How times have changed! Still, there’s the example of great leaders for those who have “ears to hear”.Ron

    P Chandrasekhr

    January 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    This seems to be brief primer on leadership. Well laid out. Definitely sets your mind on thinking what should be avoided, in order to be accepted and also gives the strength to lead the people equitably and impartially. Thanks Mike for this wonderful piece.

    Geoff Webb

    January 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Great post, Mike; thanks. I especially love the list of 5 warning signs.

    I’m always amazed at how quickly my attitude as a leader races through the rest of the organization. Here’s how I set my attitude straight early in the morning: http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/leading-with-attitude/


    January 20, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Some recent research suggests that likeable executives are hardly ever fired.


    Kerri Nowak

    January 20, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I greatly appreciated this post! Thank you! It’s important to have that “check” now and again to assess your impact. We are only as good as the people who surround us, and it’s up to us to set the climate. I wonder if there’s a good survey out there I could use to get feedback from my team.


    January 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Hi Mike,
    A very wise post Mike and food for thought!
    After having two of my companies colapse around me within a ten year period, I spent a long long time wallowing in it…blaming everything but myself for my circumstances.

    After a further two years, during which I was looking for a new career start, I finally decided to work from home and be closer to my wife and beautiful eight year old daughter whom I had neglected a lot while running these businesses in the first place.

    The trueth is that I had origionally resented working 100+ hours a week chasing a business when I should have been spending more time with my family. This resulted in a depressive and self destructive attitude, which nobody wanted to be around.

    Having a bad attitude comes in many forms and despite my own lousy attitude during which I lost my businesses, I found that having a happy home life transformed my own attitude for the better and has allowed me to focus on my family first and go on to develop a successful business right from my own home!

    And may I say with a happy outlook and a much more improved attitude towards business and life in general.

    Best Wishes

    James Garrett

    Scott Couchenour

    January 20, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Beautiful post, Mike. Highlights how important the inner life is to outward effectiveness.

    Kathy Ver Eecke

    January 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Mike: You are so right; it’s like a mother’s moods affecting the entire household. Worse yet, in my opinion, is the CEO boss whose attitude is a roller coaster of emotions. Elated and encouraging one day, and scowling and demeaning the next.

    I’ve seen several (entrepreneur) CEOs who suffer from this Jekyl/Hyde personality, most likely due to the extreme stresses of starting/running a self-funded business. What most failed to see is that, although they could keep the junior employees –who didn’t know any better– the senior, experienced staffers never stayed around.

    Nice post.

    Tom McGurran

    January 8, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Great article – when the attitude of the CEO is chronically 1.) our clients are stupid 2.) our employees don’t work very hard 3.) we are not hitting our numbers (again) the entire company slips into a downward spiral

    Skip Prichard

    January 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Mike, this is an outstanding overview of the power of attitude. It equally applies to any leader because we’re “all on stage, all the time.” I will add this–a fake attitude is no good either. Those watching can tell the difference. Authenticity is equally critical. But your ideas and steps will help leaders stay in the right ‘attitude zone.’ Having a few direct reports who are brutally honest with you helps, too. If you’re off your game, and not showing the right attitude, they can be your early warning system.

      Mike Myatt

      January 9, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      Great insights Skip – thanks for adding value to the discussion Sir.

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    Matt Brennan

    January 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Interesting post. I definitely agree. It’s just easier to accomplish more (in work and life)with the right attitude.

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