Keep Calm and… Attitude and Work Ethic

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“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” – Albert Einstein


You’ve most likely heard the phrase, “Hire for attitude; you can always train and test for skills.”  Hard skills for any job can usually be tested. A simple example would be for typing skills –you can measure a candidate’s keyboarding speed by administering a test. Attitude, though, is different. It cannot be objectively measured, and that is why it can be classified as a soft skill.

A 2012 Forbes article on a study of 20,000 new hires found that 46% of them failed within 18 months of being hired. Of those 89% failed because of attitudinal issues and only 11% due to a lack of skills. A more recent study by Millennium Branding (2014) showed that positive attitude (84%) was one of the top three attributes that recruiters look for.

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” ― Winston S. Churchill


A positive attitude is very much a real thing. There is now science behind the idea that having a positive attitude makes a difference. Using EMI machines scientist are mapping the brain and observing how both negative and positive thinking impacts the brain’s functioning. Evidence indicates that positive events help the brain develop new neuro pathways, which improves learning, making people open to new ideas and feelings, and that negative thinking actually decreases cognitive functioning and can create a drop in the immune system, which makes a person susceptible to illness. Richard Boyatzis names these effects in his Intentional Change Theory and states that we either move towards a Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) or Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA). Our natural tendency, due to our ancestry, is to move towards the negative (fight or flight). The ancient part of our brain is wired to watch out for danger and to see things in the negative. However by raising our self-awareness and managing our emotions (EQ) we can consciously move towards and maintain a PEA.

So why is all this important?

  • It increases and improves productivity.
  • It increases and improves workplace happiness.
  • We become viewed as approachable and therefore build more effective workplace relationships.
  • It creates a space that allows us to positively handle challenges or setbacks – it breeds resilience.

Our attitude defines how we approach things. There will be times when we have a bad or negative attitude and time when we have a good or positive one. Our management of these will have a significant impact on our success, not only in our careers but also our lives.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” ― Marcus Aurelius,


Being clear about what you’re working for is an important part of building a positive attitude and strong work ethic. If you are not sure what you are working for, it can be difficult or even impossible to fully invest in a project or in developing your skills. Here are some ideas to get you started (from Ten Soft Skills You Need. 2015, Global Courseware Inc.)…

  • Take time to clarify your personal goals, both in terms of specific projects and in terms of your overall career.
  • Set specific goals and then create plans to achieve them.
    • Tie these goals to your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities so that you can keep them in sight.
  • When working with a team, it is also vital that you outline clear group goals.
    • Know what each member of the group is working for, and what the group is collectively working for.
    • Find ways to consistently tie individual tasks or steps to the overarching group goals and to individual members’ personal goals.


Is Professionalism a Soft Skill?

“Soft Skills, or the ability to manage soft issues, is a challenge for modern leaders to master” Aly Moreno

I received a comment from one of my most reliable blog post followers shortly after I started publishing this material in my blog. He stated, “…Soft Skills or the ability to manage soft issues is a challenge for modern leaders to master! I would only add, if I may Integrity, i.e. all the features you very well mention have got to be handled with Integrity otherwise you may as well forget about it….” He makes a very valid and valuable point and I think it is an approach one can take to anything in life. The reality is, however, that the opposite can also be true: that those with ulterior motives can and do use soft skills effectively to achieve their own ends. The classic example would be Hitler, who successfully used his communication skills to sway a nation and then led them into a catastrophic war. This reinforces for me the importance of making sure that we all develop soft skills to the best of our abilities, to become professional in our use of them, to counter those that would use them in negative ways.


What does the word “professional” mean to you? What image does the word conjure up for you? For some it may create up an image of a cold, distant, brusque person in a nondescript navy blue suit. For others it can simply mean conducting oneself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence. In that sense professionalism is also a key soft skill, and it is here that the word integrity appears and where it fits with my friend’s comments above. Integrity, honesty, trust—these are values that should drive how we communicate, listen, show empathy, network, demonstrate self-confidence, and give and receive feedback.

A number of years ago I presented a workshop to a group of salespeople which explored the meaning of being a professional. I took some material from Nido Qubein’s book “Professional Selling Techniques” (Berkley Books, New York, 1985) where he brakes down the concept into five parts:

A professional:

  • Has a specialized knowledge and skill that enables them to render a valuable service.
  • Maintains a unique relationship with their clients. People come to them with specific needs and expect them to be filled.
  • Renders services for which people are willing to pay.
  • Is held accountable for the services they render – or fail to render.
  • Maintains a professional attitude.

Acting with professionalism also means seeking to communicate effectively with others and finding a way to be productive. Professionalism can also look like this:

  • Always reporting to work on time and returning promptly from breaks
  • Dressing appropriately
  • Being clean and neat
  • Speaking clearly and politely to colleagues, customers, and clients
  • Striving to meet high standards for one’s own work

So is professionalism a soft skill? There are some who say it is. I’m not so sure. For me professionalism is how you demonstrate and use the soft skills of communication: listening, showing empathy, networking, self-confidence, and giving and receiving feedback.


John Whitehead coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

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Do you have the Soft Skills Required to be Successful?

Soft SkillsWhy is it that soft skills seem to have become the newest and latest “big” thing? Weren’t they always important and necessary? However, I’m noticing more and more articles and posts focused on the need to increase soft skill training and development, which in turn suggests at least the perception of a shortage of these skills. In a recent post Sierra Charter comments on a US NEWS article in which the author stated that Although a strong background in traditional ‘hard’ skills like writing, mathematics and science will always have its place in academic and career worlds, an increasing number of employers desire prospective employees with ‘soft’ skills’”. In the same way that many post-secondary institutions teach a student trade skills but little in the way of how to run a trade business, so do these same institutions fail to provide training in things such as collaboration, communication and interpersonal skills. Granted, you can find courses on these subjects as part of many college continuing education programs, but what about in grades K to 12? I think it is important to note that of all the subjects taught in schools, the area where soft skills has the most potential to be developed is the area that tends to get cut first due to budgets, that is the arts – music, dance and theatre.

In his book Teaching Students To Dig Deeper: The Common Core in Action, Ben Johnson describes how a software executive stated “[that] he doesn’t place much emphasis on what the individual knows right now. He is looking for someone who can learn on the fly a completely new programming language because what is currently being used may be outdated in six months.”  This executive goes on to state that we do ourselves a disservice by using the terms “soft-skills” when referring to reasoning, logic, collaboration, communication, and thinking skills; that in the information technology industry, these skills are crucial and anything but “soft” because they are the most difficult to master and, “unfortunately, fairly rare in employee candidates.”

Johnson goes on to state that we need to be teaching skills such as:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

These critical skills are what businesses are clamoring for in their future employees, not just in high tech but in other industries as well.

A recent study in the UK determined that “Soft Skills” are worth £88bn ($186bn CDN) to the UK economy. A business group—including, believe it or not, McDonalds—is doing a three month study on how government can introduce policies that will help employees and employers develop soft skills. The CPO (Chief People Officer) for McDonalds in the UK and northern Europe stated that abilities such as communications, interpersonal skills and time management were “essential skills” for employees.

So should teaching “soft-skills” be a priority in schools? This is a title of an excellent article by Alejandro Ganimian in EductionNext where he describes and concludes that, yes, they should be because, for one reason, children need to be able to use a soft skill such as patience to be able to work on math problems. As another commentator noted, “If we believe that public education is an anchor of democracy, a propeller of our economy and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams, then we have to make public education about three things: helping our students build trusting relationships—with both their peers and adults; equipping them with essential knowledge and the tools to critically think and problem solve; and perhaps most important, helping them develop persistence and grit—the ability and means to deal with disappointment and lack of success.”

I don’t know what it’s like in the school system where you live, but it’s something to think about. How are we preparing the next generation to succeed when it comes to interpersonal relationships? It’s obviously become an issue that needs to be addressed.

What Does It Mean To Really Listen

In my upcoming book (hopefully to be available this fall) I explore the importance of Soft Skills development.  Two of these skills are verbal and non-verbal communications: its nature of being a “two way street,” the need for both a sender and a receiver in order for the communication to be anything other than mere noise. Some have suggested that listening is more important than talking for effective communication. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. The symbolism is obvious.

In this week’s video blog post I talk about my personal experience with finally getting the importance of actually listening.


Listening is more than just hearing the words someone speaks. It is a total way of receiving verbal and nonverbal messages, processing them, and communicating that understanding back to the speaker. Many of us listen in order to respond – we are formulating our next message while the other is still talking. We should instead listen to understand – to fully take in, process, and comprehend the message that is being sent. We communicate from our own perspective, the reality in which we live, our understanding of our own world. So ask questions to clarify the speaker’s meaning. Reframe what they have said in your own words, to see if you get agreement on their intended message. By doing this you learn to seek their perspective and reality, rather than defaulting to your own.

Using FeedForward to get Unique Perspectives

FeedForward is an exercise and concept from Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s top executive coaches.  FeedForward is based on the premise that we can’t do anything about the past, it’s done. What we can focus on is the future. It is a different way of looking at performance reviews as well.

In this week’s video blog I talk about an experience I had facilitating the FeedForward exercise at a workshop I recently did and the insights that it provided for the participants. I also talk about doing this exercise with my students at UBCO.

You can find more information on the FeedForward exercise by visiting Marshall’s website:

If you would like to learn more about my experiences, or you would like me to present at an upcoming event you are having, contact me.