THE BLOG
01/21/2015 11:54 am ET Updated Mar 23, 2015

My Attitude Is None of Your Business

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As a business owner, you may have read or heard that "Attitude is everything." It's standard advice from many business gurus. Here's where you will get into trouble: When you start talking about your employee's attitude.

I have spent much of my life as an employee. Too often, I was pulled aside by my manager to have the "attitude discussion." This is how that unproductive conversation goes:

"Ellen, you have a bad attitude."

"No. I don't. My attitude is fine."

"It's really bad. Other people are saying it, too."

"My attitude's good. Really."

"No, your attitude is terrible and it's affecting everyone at the company."

This would seemingly go on forever. Bottom line: My manager had no idea what was going on between my ears. And I would have no idea what he was talking about. #wasteoftime

As a trouble-making, fence-testing, spit-wad-throwing employee, the real problem wasn't my life outlook. It was that I would show up late. I would neglect to do my "closing duties" or check things off the required checklists. I would "modify" my uniform. All of these things are behaviors, not attitude.

Strike the "attitude discussion" from your management repertoire. Stay out of their heads. Instead, say...

"On my watch, my job is to help you be successful. I'll do my best to create a great game, and make it clear and understood. I'll provide training and support. We will work together to accomplish the mission. Sometimes we will fail, and sometime we will win. You don't have to play this game. But, if you want to, you will have to show up on time, clean, sober and use the checklists. Otherwise you will lose this job. Fair enough?"

Create a really great game at your company. Something so interesting and important and satisfying that one wouldn't waste time playing little games, like "I wonder if the boss will notice I have on the wrong shoes." Give your team members reasonable rules and consequences. Better yet, create them together. Then, make sure the overarching purpose, mission, the WHY of the game is compelling enough for them to consider, "I don't want to lose this great job because of the stupid shoes I am supposed to wear."

People put up with stuff they hate -- rules, uniforms, schedule -- if they love their jobs, and the people they work with. It gets even better when there is a reason for playing. Perhaps you are saving the environment. Or, demonstrating respect and honor. Or are building the best darn ______ on the planet. Or contributing a portion of every sale to end world hunger. It's up to you. Find your purpose and add it to the mix.

Help your team play a really great game. Help them win, and their "attitudes" are usually just fine.

You might work on your own attitude. I work on my personal outlook everyday. I read and listen to Wayne Dyer , Napoleon Hill, Jim Rohn...I love these guys, and so many others! When they use the word attitude, I'm lost. When they make behavioral suggestions like write down your goals, give thanks for five things, practice silence and speak kind words, well, then I am all in. Write lists of things you love about yourself and other people. Say things that are positive. Tell people you love them. Pray, meditate. Those are things I can do. These disciplines make me feel calmer, happier, and connected. (Special thanks to Harry Friedman who was the first guru I met to have the same issue with the word "attitude.")

And you know, to look at me, you might think I have a great attitude. However, sometimes the inside of my head is a dark place. I am thinking, "Just keep smiling. At some point you will feel less awful than you do right now."

Can you relate?

If I stick with healthy disciplines, I feel better. Meditating clears my mind and opens me up for inspiration. That knot in my shoulders dissolves. When I speak about what I want, what I can see and measure, I communicate better. When I ask good questions and listen and write things down, I make better decisions. When I laugh, others sometimes laugh, too. But note that what I say and do, are behaviors and not an attitude. Attitude is a result, and nothing to be approached directly. It's a uniquely personal experience.

My attitude, their attitude, is none of your business.

Hold team members accountable and love them unconditionally. Work on your own personal mental health and spirituality or whatever path you choose. At some point, someone might say, "How come you are so happy?" Then, you might share what you do. You may inspire them. But stay out of their heads.