Skills v. Attitude: what wins?

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There can often be controversy about the merits of attitude over skills and the truth is both have their place. Sometimes, specific skills are vital for anyone to be able to perform their job effectively. And these skills regularly form a key part of a job description under the heading: “Essential”.

However, most people will agree that a positive attitude is not only hugely beneficial, it can overcome perceived obstacles. It can also be infectious, resulting in a highly motivated workforce.

Zig Ziglar, a well-known American motivational speaker, once said: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Hmm, great line; but then how true is that? Ziglar made a fortune writing and speaking about the merits of positive thinking and, in America, he had a captive audience. His message was simple: with the right attitude, you can overcome all sorts of obstacles and achieve. In this he was aiming primarily, if not exclusively, at entrepreneurs and individual business owners. But it applies universally. The first thing to remember is that a skill must be learned; an attitude tends to be part of your character.

Positive thinking is usually left to optimists. “Can we sort this fiendish problem?” “Sure, we can! I’ll fix it” as opposed to: “Well, I don’t know; doubt I can help; not sure we have the resources.” Of course, the optimist must have the skills needed to complete the job, but it’s their attitude that’s so important here. If you were the boss needing someone in your team to help you with a highly pressing problem, and given that both an optimist and a pessimist in your team had the same level of skills required to sort it, who would you turn to? 

During the recruitment process, “Skills Required” often come under the “Essential” category in the job description. In other words, if you don’t possess these skills, don’t bother to apply? Wrong. Clearly if, for example, they’re asking for an ability to perform open-heart surgery – and you can’t – then you withdraw gracefully. But if you can impress them enough with your CV, cover letter or application that you get asked to interview, then your positive attitude may be the key. A positive thinker will not focus on what they can’t do, but on what they can do. We’ve said so often: People employ people - and, they would rather work beside someone with a sunny disposition who is eager and able to learn, than a highly skilled automaton.

It’s been said many times that the most important resource in any organisation is its people. If the management actively encourage a ‘teamwork’ philosophy throughout, then the entire workforce will be more efficient and productive. They all have a common attitude – leading to a common goal. 

This attitude has also to work from the top. It’s an accepted fact that a genuine ‘pat on the back’ from a boss is far more motivational than an extra fiver in your pay packet. “Well done, Douglas, you really helped us out of a jam today. Thanks.” Wow. Douglas goes home on Cloud 9, eager to tell everyone what happened to them at work today. And returns the next day full of enthusiasm. Time required for ‘training purposes’? Zero. It’s all about attitude.

There can be no question that skills that you need to do a job effectively are an integral part of employment. However, the value of these skills can be diluted if you don’t also have the temperament, the positive attitude that will enhance that effectiveness, make you someone who is appreciated by work colleagues, and both internal and external stakeholders. 


"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude."


Key Points

  • Zig Ziglar quote
  • Positive attitude = optimist
  • The need for specific skills
  • The job application – what you need to say
  • Motivation by the boss
  • A positive workforce

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