Not All You’ve Heard
The axiom "attitude is everything" has been stated by so many motivational speakers and writers over the years that many of us simply accept it as fact. If so many people believe it, it must be true, right?
Wrong, says leadership expert John Maxwell in The Difference Maker. He maintains that while attitude is important, there are certain things it cannot achieve. It cannot change people into something they’re not. Attitude cannot replace competence, experience or personal growth and it cannot change the facts. Maxwell gives an example of two people applying for the same job. One has skills, talent and 10 years experience, but a so-so attitude. The other has a super attitude, but no experience. Who gets the job? "Probably the one with the greater skills and experience," writes Maxwell. "Why? Because a great attitude will not make up the gap."
Attitude as an Asset
Despite the "cannots," Maxwell writes, attitude is a primary component in determining our success. While it can’t alter what exists, it can influence our future via how we choose to deal with things we encounter in everyday life. "The happiest people," he notes, "don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they make the best of everything." Essentially, if we expect bad things, he says, we get them. Conversely, we often get good things by expecting them.
By applying attitude correctly, we can make it one of our most powerful assets. To this end, Maxwell stresses, it’s something we control; it’s a matter of choice, not circumstances, how we deal with a particular situation. To do so, we need to first evaluate our current attitude, create the desire to change it, then rearrange our thoughts to do so.
This is largely done by making an effort to allow our thinking to run in positive channels. Maxwell believes negative thoughts lead to negative beliefs, which in turn lead to wrong decisions and actions, creating a pattern of bad habits. Developing the proper attitude can reverse this vicious cycle. He also maintains that attitude adjustment isn’t a one-time event; it’s something we have to manage daily.
Point by Point
To change our attitude, Maxwell claims, we have to overcome what he calls the "Big Five" major attitude obstacles. "When you can learn to deal with them in a positive way," he says, "you can face anything else life may have in store for you."
According to Maxwell, the first hurdle is discouragement. If not handled correctly, discouragement can make someone give up instead of facing the situation. This involves not becoming fixated or paralyzed, but viewing things from different perspectives and taking the best road possible for your personal well-being. The mix includes introspection, having the right expectations and making the right decisions.
The second hurdle is change, something that most people resist. The key here, Maxwell allows, is to objectively examine why we’re opposed to the change. Once that’s established, we need to determine how to make the change successful and positive, keeping in mind that all change has a price to which we must be willing to commit.
Problems are the third obstacle. "Our perspective on problems, not the problem itself, usually determines our success or failure," writes Maxwell. To this end, the difference between problem-spotting and problem-solving can be crucial. Tackling a problem head-on and working out the best way of dealing with it can often turn into an opportunity for personal or professional advancement.
The fourth obstacle is fear. Here, Maxwell invokes Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," as far more than rhetoric. Maxwell contends that if permitted to run rampant, fear can generate inaction, weakness and more fear, which can be destructive. Rather than waste energy by being afraid, we need to realize the limitations fear places on us. It’s only by properly handling what we’re afraid of, he says, that we can overcome fear and achieve our full potential.
Last, Maxwell discusses failure. The premise is simple: If we fail or make a mistake, we need to learn from it and go on. Otherwise, we run the risk of letting it defeat us. By seeing failure as a teacher rather than a limit, we remain capable of taking risks - something necessary for success.
Why We Like This Book
While some might argue that what Maxwell offers is simply common sense, the book goes far beyond. Written in a light, almost chatty style that uses examples, anecdotes and quotes from Abraham Lincoln to Yogi Berra, it provides many points of entry and shows how anyone, if determined, can indeed make his or her attitude make a difference.
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