Attitude vs. Aptitude

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“Your attitude, NOT your aptitude, determines your altitude”

-Zig Ziglar

In one of my articles, “The Exactitude of Attitude”, I examined the importance of having people not only with the right skills, but the right attitude – and that 46% of new hires fail within the first 18 months on the job.  The reason?  For 89% of them it is because they have the wrong attitude, and that only 11% fail because of the lack of technical skills and competencies.

However, as leaders and managers in our business we already have existing employees who display a range of different mixes of attitude and aptitude.  What are these mixes and what are their implications?

Aptitude-vs-Attitude

In this matrix different people will be in different positions at the same time, and for each person these positions will also change over time.

The Difference Between Aptitudes and Attitudes

Aptitudes are our potential to learn skills which we develop and hone through time. What works, you continue using. What does not, you strive to change. However, aptitudes alone cannot take you all the way through the path to success.

Your attitude determines what and how much you can do. It is like an engine – it can either slow you down or accelerate you forward.

The fundamental difference here, for managers and leaders, is that you can train people for weaknesses in aptitude – but you cannot train people out of an attitude weakness.  Attitude is internal to the individual, you cannot motivate a person to change themselves – they have to motivate themselves to change.

As such, you can only influence them in three ways:

  • Using carrots and sticks – this only creates compliance, as soon as the pressure to conform is reduced the individual will revert to their original attitudes and behaviours;
  • Peer pressure – creating the necessary peer pressure to get the individual to change their attitude to that which is wanted; this is dependent, however, on the peer pressure being aligned with that of the business;
  • Alignment with Self-Interests – by aligning the interests of the individual with those of the business, the individual willingly changes their attitudes and behavior to those required by the organization. This is the only sustainable way of engaging people and getting them to change their attitude and behaviors.

So What to Do?

You can only effectively influence people’s aptitude, not their attitude.  As managers and leaders we can train people to help them improve; we can manage performance, but we cannot, nor should we, manage behavior.

To help people improve their skills requires understanding their current skills and capabilities, what is needed for them to perform well and the current gap between the two and their priorities.

To improve people’s attitudes needs the individual to change.  We can help provide a suitably motivating environment to encourage people to change, but we cannot make them change.

Summary

Help people develop their skills, help them to help themselves change.  But do not allow those with the wrong attitudes stay where they are, especially if they refuse to change.  In these cases you have three options – Train, Transfer or Terminate.  Train them in how they can change themselves; Transfer them to another position where their attitudes and behavior may be a better fit; or Terminate them – you are probably doing them a kindness, as well as yourself, by taking them out of a position where they are unhappy and giving them the opportunity to find somewhere else that suits them better.

Be clear on what attitudes and aptitudes you want in your business, and what you want your employees to exemplify in what they do and how they do it.  Mark up where you see your staff on the matrix and identify if they need to improve their attitude or their aptitude, the priorities, and focus on them.  Remember, it is your employees’ attitudes that are a better predictor of their success – not their aptitude.

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Andrew is the Managing Director of Blue Sky GPS and a leading executive and business consultant who partners with entrepreneurs and business owners in helping them grow the business, commercialize their offerings and increase profitability. In doing this he works with them on addressing key challenges and opportunities and, in doing so, enables them to learn experientially and embed the key commercial, management and leaderships skills they need to succeed personally and professionally. This allows them to succeed on an on-going basis independently of Andrew or any other third party. He is currently writing a series of five business books for both new and experienced managers on topics including developing your business acumen, strategy, personal skill for manager and leaders, developing your interpersonal skills, and personal career success. These will be published in 2016 and 2017. Andrew has worked nationally and internationally in setting up new businesses and divisions for both start-ups and blue-chip organizations. Andrew has a MBA from the London Business School, and is an accredited executive coach with Marshall Goldsmith, the world’s leading executive coach.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hey Andrew, the points and example you’ve shared are worthy of explaining this important but lesser-known fact. I must say both these things matter a lot but not everyone is taking care of the attitude part. Aptitude part is taken care of because it’s a part of studies but attitude is what you’ve to work harder on.

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