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5 Steps for Enhancing Attitudes Under Pressure

You often hear about the importance of hiring for attitude over skills because "you can train skills, but you can't train attitude." While this sentiment has some truth to it, the reality is that everyone has room to improve their attitude, especially when the pressure is on. It's easy for candidates to appear to have a positive attitude during interviews, but how they truly respond under stress can be quite different. Down, the track, when the cracks start appearing, how to train a positive attitude in employees becomes a critical skill in management of a business of any size.


At barely 30, I was thrust into a senior management role overseeing a multi-million-dollar budget with projects across Australia and New Zealand. The stakes were high, with numerous moving parts and many people to coordinate. While the project outcomes were very successful, my own personal journey had its ups and downs. Despite my best intentions, I struggled with stress management. There were times when I didn't show resilience or patience as well as I would have liked. From the outside, it might have seemed like I had an 'attitude.' However, a deeper look would reveal a perfectionist streak. I was striving not just to do a good job but an 'excellent' one, which caused me significant stress. I sought affirmation from fellow leaders but instead faced political 'games' that added to my stress. I needed support—a mentor, executive coach, or supportive manager to help me develop emotional intelligence. Yet, that support never came. Instead, I was retrenched.

Imagine the contribution I could have continued to make to that company as a dedicated and eager worker if I had been given the support I needed to manage my stress. Instead, all my company knowledge walked out the door, leaving behind a demoralised team that had loyally looked to me for leadership. Fortunately, my story didn't end there; other organisations benefited from my growth and maturation over the years. However, in this instance, the lack of support for a senior leader ultimately meant that everyone missed out on what could have been.

I am just one example of many who have learned to manage stress and work pressures, going on to achieve even more. My hope in this article is to debunk the myth that attitudes cannot be learned or changed. Often, an 'attitude' stems from someone in a job that doesn't suit their personality and strengths or from someone struggling who could do better with more support. This could be an issue of neurodiversity; for instance, workers with ADHD thrive with routine, clear benchmarks, deadlines, visual reminders, and other supports. Alternatively, it could indicate a need for a more holistic approach to people management. When was the last time you asked a team member what's happening in their life outside of work? Despite our efforts to compartmentalise, the truth is we are holistic beings and bring our 'whole selves' to work. Whether it's sleep deprivation from a crying baby or grief from a loss, our physical and emotional state impacts our work. Next time someone shows a bit of 'attitude,' try to attune more deeply to what might be going on for them.

Aside from stress-induced 'attitude,' other labels like 'lazy,' 'unmotivated,' or 'not pulling their weight' can also be misleading. What might be happening for such a person? Could their job responsibilities be renegotiated to make them more enthusiastic about their work? How long have they been expected to do the same tasks without opportunities for progression, development, or salary increases? We shouldn't be quick to judge someone's 'attitude' until we fully understand their situation and what might work best for them. Attitudes can quickly change when a person feels heard, respected, and given opportunities for growth. My recommendation would be to use the available tools such as personality profiling tools, 360 degree feedback tools and regular job analysis, as ways of ensuring a person's trajectory within your business in on track for enhanced motivation and success. Remember, their success is you're success.

In summary, if you find yourself with a team member who seems initially to have an 'attitude', here are 5 Steps for enhancing attitudes when everyone is under pressure:

1. Regular Check-ins and Mentorship: Schedule regular one-on-one meetings to discuss challenges and provide specific feedback and support. Foster a supportive environment where the individual feels safe to express themselves and work on personal growth without judgment. Be the example they need to follow. Offer practical mentoring or find someone who can. Introduce the individual to positive role models who exemplify a good attitude. Encourage learning from their behaviour and adopting similar habits.


2. Provide Coaching in Stress Management Techniques: Provide structured coaching sessions focused on identifying negative thought patterns and replacing them with positive alternatives to reframe perspectives. Building resilience and emotional intelligence is crucial. Recommend daily practices such as mindfulness meditation, gratitude journaling, or affirmations to cultivate positivity and self-awareness. Encourage setting small, achievable milestones to build confidence and motivation.


3. Skill Building in Communication: Share insights from books like "Crucial Conversations" by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Effective communication skills can significantly enhance resilience and relationship-building under pressure.


4. Point towards Resources: Encourage them to explore resources to enhance their skills and well-being. Recommend practical time-management tools such as task management apps or the Pomodoro technique. Suggest online courses for time management and stress reduction on platforms like Coursera or Udemy. Provide curated articles, books, or motivational videos that discuss the transformative power of positivity and mindset shifts to inspire healthier perspectives and resilience.


5. Recognise and Reward Efforts: Acknowledge and celebrate efforts and improvements. Motivate them to keep trying and empathise when their attitude slips, encouraging them to try again. Emphasise the importance of persistence and patience in developing a positive attitude. Change takes time and effort, and setbacks are natural parts of the learning process. Celebrate achievements along the way.


Building a positive attitude under pressure is a journey. By investing in your employees' development and well-being, you can help them unlock their full potential and contribute more effectively to the team. By employing these strategies consistently and tailored to the individual's needs, you can effectively prompt and support the development of a positive attitude in those who may struggle with this aspect of personal growth. Remember, each person's journey toward cultivating positivity is unique, so it's crucial to adapt interventions based on their preferences and challenges.


Post-script: A business manager known to me just confessed feeling completely overwhelmed reading this article, thinking 'How could I possibly find the time to provide all that for my team members?". This is a common reaction to being faced with the ideals of people-management. If you have a similar reaction, don't struggle on alone.

Release Leadership provides tools, coaching and other support to enable you to be the best people-manager you can be. Reach out today.



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