LA 010: Aptitude + Attitude = Altitude

Technical Aptitude alone is insufficient

Jimmy Connors, winner of 109 professional singles tennis titles says, “There’s a thin line between being #1 or #100, and mostly it’s mental.”

In his well-researched book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman shows that it’s our attitude more than our aptitude that determines our altitude. While our society lauds intellectual giants and power, Goleman’s research concludes, “At best, IQ contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80 percent to other forces.”

Other EQ researchers, Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf consider this too conservative. In their book, Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations, they write, “— IQ may be related to as little as 4 percent of real-world success — over 90 percent may be related to other forms of intelligence — it is emotional intelligence, not IQ or raw brain power alone, that underpins many of the best decisions, the most dynamic and profitable organizations, and the most satisfying and successful lives.

Malcolm Higgs and Vic Dulewicz set out to disprove this “faddish idea” relenting after their research that, Emotional Intelligence is of far greater importance than IQ and something they term “management quotient”.

There’s a growing consensus in the academic and popular literature that our attitude and our mindset are more important than our technical capability that make a difference to our success. As Zig Ziglar puts it, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

Difference makers have a better attitude

Nowadays, I mention Tiger Woods, and people only seem to remember he attacked his car with a golf club and threw away his marriage. But let's go back in time all the way to 2008… and the US Open.

Consider all the things that Tiger could use as an excuse:

  • Hadn't played in a competition for two months
  • Recent knee operation – reduced fitness
  • Further damaged knee on swing during the tournament
  • Highly skilled and determined competitors
  • Poor first-round
  • Pressure of historical wins
  • Expectations very high on his performance
  • Did not need the money

After blowing a three-shot lead with eight holes to play, Woods rallied and came to the 18th hole and stood over a birdie put to avoid an infamous defeat. He came through. Sudden death on the 7th saw an end to his fierce competition and Woods again took the trophy.

How many of us would find that sort of resilience within us?

To gain altitude ask yourself these three question every day: What can I learn? How can I change? How can I add value to you today?

To gain altitude ask yourself these three question every day: What can I learn? How can I change? How can I add value to you today?

How do we develop the right attitude to gain altitude?

When we begin our careers, we all start as enthusiastic beginners. We might go to college and even to business school. We learn on the job and gradually, we develop the aptitudes to be competent in our jobs, albeit, inconsistently. One day we do brilliantly well, another everything conspires against us to sabotage us. As we practice our job more and more, we become technically better at it, but there are still those frustrating days. Of course, most of that frustration is caused by other people, but nonetheless, it's still frustrating.

But, it is our attitude that determines our altitude.

And the right attitude doesn't come in a can’t, it comes in a can.

3 Questions to a better attitude and to gain altitude.

  1. What can I learn?
  2. What can I change? And,
  3. How can I add value to you today?

Asking yourself, and responding each day will enable and empower you to change your attitude for the better and gain altitude. Let us begin with learning:

What can I learn?

People who achieve great success are always learning. They seek ways to improve and are prepared to work through the difficulties of change required to become better.

Peter Senge in his book, The Learning Organization, expands in great detail about his idea for organizations to constantly seek improvement in everything. But what about learning at a personal level? What if you are currently at the top of your game? Surely you’ve already learned.

Our learning journey can go through a series of steps, and the height of our performance is determined by our technical ability and our mindset, our aptitude, and our attitude.

The journey is not always easy or straightforward, but as we challenge ourselves to deliberately learn every day, we are choosing to face up to all the challenges that life throws at us.

Let’s return to Tiger Woods as we ask the next question:

What can I change?

You’re at the top of your game; you’re doing better than anyone has ever done in your field. Technically, you are the best in your business. You earn more than anyone else in the same line of business. You have a serious competitive advantage. Why would you decide to change something fundamental about the way you do what you do?

After seven years and 142 tournaments in a row, Tiger Woods finally joined the ranks of mortal golfers when he missed the cut at the Byron Nelson Championship May 13, 2005. Golf pundits argue that changing his swing is to blame.

There was another reason, his knee. A physical problem that seems to not want to go away. But what makes Tiger stand out so much from the rest is not just his aptitude for the game, his superior technical skill… it’s his mindset. In spite of being in a great deal of pain… he overcame it with determination, the will and resilience that allowed his technical brilliance to shine.

As we address the challenges of life and business, learn and change ourselves to deal more and more efficiently with every challenge, we begin to enter that zone where competency and challenge align perfectly and we find ourselves in flow.

And yet, we all have days (sometimes weeks and months) where everything seems to be going wrong. Whatever you try to do, however much you learn and have changed – there just doesn’t seem to be any progress.

Sports psychologists refer to the period when everything is going well, and peak performance is apparent as being ‘in the zone’. Golfers who find their rhythm and the ball lands just so. The athlete who has trained and is at their physical and mental peak runs the race of their life. The business person who’s found themselves in the right place at the right time with the right product or service.

Yet most of the time, we just ain’t there. We yank the club and the ball lands in the bunker. Our business would be just great if we just land this additional sale.

Some days, it’s hard to wake up and find the energy to put on a brave face and go out there knowing that today probably isn’t that day, hoping that it is but not really believing it. We know we have to learn and improve but just when is my breakthrough going to come.

It may not come today, but one thing I can assure you of – something about today is better than yesterday.

On those days, where it just isn’t going right, that's the best time to do something for somebody else.

Take your mind off you and your struggles and focus on adding value to others.

Our third key question is, How can I add value to you today?

The interaction that exists between every leader and follower is a relationship. A relationship can be added to or subtracted from in a person’s life. When leaders see that success cannot be achieved without people, it changes the mindset of the leader. Leaders who add value by serving others stand to gain more in life than just economic prosperity. Greatness is built with people, while mediocrity is achieved by oneself.

Several years ago I was working with a company in Malaysia. It’s a very well known and highly regarded company.

I’m going to share about two people in this company. Both were “High Potential” and both marked as potential successors to the CEO. Only one would ultimately get the job.

These two managers could not have been more different in their approach to their leadership.

The first was very achievement driven. Mostly autocratic in style and would cajole, motivate and always delivered great results for the company.

In meetings, this person would readily speak up and voice an opinion. Always with a strong focus on delivering the company results.

The problem for this leader was that the team and colleagues respected the results this leader got but did not like the methods.

The other person was, in comparison, quiet, seemingly reserved. This leader involved staff, asked questions, listened patiently and gently guided people. Results were not always fantastic. Staff and colleagues felt relaxed and cared for around this leader.

The CEO asked me to essentially combine the two of them. The results and drive of the first leader with the more gentle and caring approach of the second. Well that wasn’t going to happen…

The CEO finally chose one of these two to succeed. The Board approved.

Who got the job? The driver.

The other leader was disappointed but made a choice to fully serve the new CEO and was made Deputy CEO. But the new CEO felt threatened by this and tried to sideline the other, now deputy CEO. The CEO became more driving, demanding better results and harder work. “Take no prisoners”… The deputy was asked to leave after 6 months. Seems like the good guys don’t win huh?

By the end of the year, 25% of staff had been fired 40% of the staff had quit. HR couldn’t fill the vacancies. The Board were getting more than nervous.

18 months after taking over as CEO, the company was in serious trouble. Remaining managers were jumping ship, most moving to another organization… a direct competitor and an increasingly thriving business whose CEO, yeah that’s right ,the fired Deputy.

Today, one business thrives, the other, well it sank. The CEO, he got a great and very high paying job in Qatar.

You see, you can drive people and achieve results. You can even do very well for yourself. I’ve known many CEOs over the years and it always seems that the worse you actually perform, the better you get paid. Odd right?

But when you reflect on your leadership. What do you want to be known for? How much you added to your own pocket, or how much you added to the lives of others?

Begin to gain altitude as a leader today by asking these three questions:

  1. What can I learn?
  2. How can I change? And,
  3. How can I add value to you today?

Remember, you were born to soar like an eagle, not peck the dirt like a chicken.

Check out this episode!

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