Is It Time to Change Your Attitude?

Do you believe that your success has as much to do with your attitude as any actions that you might take? I do! And last weekend, I had two conversations that definitely reinforced that belief.

The first conversation was at a lovely afternoon party where I was re-introduced to a woman I had met a few times before, many years ago — let me call her Mary for the sake of simplicity. As we sat outside in the sun drinking lemonade, Mary told me that she really wanted to serve on a corporate board but had no idea how to go about it.

Mary, I soon learned, has achieved significant distinction in her field since we last met. She has a PhD, which she received at a very young age, and was honored with a prestigious award in her field. She works as an executive at a major technology company advising senior leadership and the company’s board in her area of expertise. She is also a newly appointed professor at a major university business school, her alma mater, and regularly gives paid speeches at large industry conferences for significant fees.

You would imagine, with her credentials, that companies would regularly be seeking her out and offering her a seat on their board, but this is not the case. In fact, as we spoke, it became pretty apparent that despite her many qualifications, Mary still has questions about whether she is qualified for a board seat. She also admitted she had told no one that she was seeking a board position.

Later, as I went to replenish my lemonade, I ran into another person I know – let’s call him Mark. Mark runs a company with his wife that has recently turned a profit after 5 years in business. Since he lives outside the US but has an MBA from a major US university, he is regularly sought out for his business expertise and participates in industry conferences, serves on boards and is thinking of writing his first book. He was filled with plans to capitalize on his expertise and gain a large following for his know-how in the area of innovation. He had heard I had written a book and wanted to pick my brain to learn more about what was required.

As I drove away from the party, it struck me that one of these things is not like the other. While Mark and Mary are both highly qualified executives, one is filled with doubts and the other is filled with plans. One is regularly sought after and the other is still not sure she’s arrived. One is regularly seeking out people to collaborate with and ways to get better known and the other has put her head down and is working harder hoping someone will notice.

What gives?

It’s true that both Mary and Mark are the parents of 3 children — but it won’t surprise you that only Mary mentioned that this was one of the things that held her back from getting more involved in her field. It’s also true that Mary is competing in the US and Mark is able to stand out in a much smaller country where he is considered more of a rare commodity. But I don’t think either of those are the explanation.

Indeed, I think a lot of this has to do with attitude. Let me explain what I mean.

Years ago, a good friend of mine moved to Beijing and she was interviewing for an executive position with a global company. She was the only non-Chinese candidate being interviewed and the recruiter told her she didn’t have much of a shot at the job. Throughout the interview, my friend told me that she didn’t think she was making much of an impression as she answered lots of rote questions about her background and skill set. Then, as the interviewer wrapped up his interview, he asked her one last question.

“If your best friend was sitting here and I asked her whether I should hire you for this job, what would she say?”

My friend told me that she thought about the question for a moment and then she decided to just ‘channel’ me and so replied, “My best friend would say, you’d be darn lucky to get me and a fool not to hire me.” (Which, by the way, is exactly what I would have said!)

The interviewer sat up in his chair for the first time and started rapidly scribbling notes on his yellow pad. What happened? She was the only one who was called back for a second round interview and eventually landed the job.

This is what I’m talking about. If your attitude is, ‘they’d be darn lucky to get me and a fool not to hire me’, (or promote me or add me to their board), you are going to act differently than if you are waiting around for someone to notice you. You are going to act more like Mark and less like Mary. In my experience, that attitude shift can make all the difference.

Why not start today?

Look in the mirror every morning as you brush your teeth and repeat that mantra – “They’d (whoever “they” is in your world) would be DARN LUCKY to get me and a FOOL not to hire me.” And then get out there and make it (that new job, promotion, board seat or book) happen.

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