John Maxwell: Attitude is the Difference Maker
We’ve all heard countless statements about the significant part our attitude plays in everyday life. The connection between attitude and success is undeniable. Yet changing our attitude can be one of the most difficult things we do.
For the next few months, I will share some thoughts with you about attitude, and some practical ideas on how you can successfully implement a change in your attitude.
Is Attitude All You Need?
I am a motivational teacher; I’m not a motivational speaker. A motivational speaker makes you feel good, but then the next day you don’t know why. As a motivational teacher, I hope I make you feel good, but the next day you’ll also know why.
One of the things motivational speakers say a lot, which I disagree with, is that attitude is everything. If you can believe it, you can achieve it, they say. What you set your mind to can become yours. I don’t think it works that way. I know a lot of good people who have a wonderful attitude who haven’t reached their dreams yet.
That’s what motivated me to write the book The Difference Maker. I felt there ought to be a book on attitude to help a person understand all of the good things it could do for them and all the things it can’t. Attitude isn’t everything, but it’s the main difference maker.
Let me first tell you what your attitude cannot do for you.
• Your attitude cannot substitute for competence. If you have a great attitude but you are incompetent, you’re never going to get where you want to go. Some people confuse confidence, which is a function of attitude, with competence, which is a function of ability. Let me explain it this way. I love to sing, and I would love to sing opera. That’s the good news. The bad news? I can’t sing. I could spend thousands of dollars hiring the best voice coaches in the world and practice three hours a day, and I still would never become an opera singer. It’s not an attitude problem; it’s a competence problem.
• Your attitude cannot substitute for experience. When I was a pastor in San Diego years ago, I had a church that was fairly large. And one of the things I realized very quickly was that I could no longer afford to hire young staffers who didn’t have experience working in large churches. I needed people with experience and a breadth of knowledge with larger congregations, people who I didn’t need to train from the ground up. Attitude cannot substitute for experience.
• Your attitude cannot change the facts. The facts are the facts. No matter how good your attitude is, you’ll never be a center in the NBA if you are 5 feet tall. Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
• Your attitude cannot substitute for personal growth. Bruce Springsteen said it best: “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.”
• Your attitude will not stay good automatically. I’ve written three or four books on attitude, but my attitude still doesn’t stay good automatically. It’s like the farmer says: “The hardest thing about cows is they never stay milked.” Our attitude is just like that. It just doesn’t stay set.
I tell myself every morning that I’m going to display a good attitude throughout the day. The reason I do it early in the morning is because once I hit the freeways and get into traffic, it’s tough to keep a good attitude while people are honking their horns at me and gesturing I’m No. 1. Your attitude doesn’t stay the same. It’s better to maintain an attitude than it is to regain an attitude.
For years, I’ve tried to live by the following statement: I cannot always choose what happens to me, but I can always choose what happens in me. Some things in life are beyond my control. Some things are within it. My attitude about the areas beyond my control can be the difference maker. My attitude about the areas that I do control will be the difference maker. In other words, the greatest difference my “difference maker” can make is within me, not others. When you are trying to change someone, just try and change yourself.
Now let’s talk about what your attitude can do for you.
• Your attitude makes a difference in your approach to life. All’s well that begins well. We’ve always heard this phrase the other way around: All’s well that ends well. Ask any coach of a sports team, and they’ll tell you the attitude of the players going into the game will be a determining factor in the outcome of the game.
• Your attitude makes a difference in your relationships with people. When someone has a difficult time with people, almost always it’s an attitude issue. People who fail in relationships almost always fail in the area of attitude toward others. Your attitude has a tremendous impact upon your relationship skills.
• Your attitude makes a difference in how you face challenges. Successful people don’t have fewer problems than unsuccessful people—they just have a different mindset. Take, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte. His school companions mocked him because of his humble origins and poverty. He responded by studying harder, and soon he became the best student in the class and went on to become one of the greatest generals in history.
Abraham Lincoln is considered by many to be the best of the U.S. presidents, yet he probably would not have stood out as a great leader had he not led the country through the Civil War. Often the circumstances seemed to be instrumental in the creation of great leaders and thinkers. But that is the case only when their attitudes are right.
I will end with the words of Chuck Swindoll, who wrote a great piece called The Power of Attitude:
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or scale. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change our past.… We cannot change the fact that people act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it, and so it is with you…. We are in charge of our attitudes.