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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Why your attitude in the workplace affects every aspect of your organization

For a happy, successful, productive team, a leader’s attitude has to model happiness, success, and productivity to the best of their ability. 

Why your attitude in the workplace affects every aspect of your organization
[NDABCREATIVITY / Adobe Stock]

It’s easy for leaders to become so focused on “being driven” that they lose their soft side, which involves valuable skills like empathy and empowering others. They can forget that the people on their team are people, too, with personal lives that might positively or negatively affect their attitude, just like a leader’s personal problems can occasionally show up in the workplace. Except, because of their position of authority, a leader’s attitude holds much more sway in its positive and negative effects on the company and its team. In fact, I’ve seen that employees’ attitudes at work tend to be a reflection of the attitude of their leaders.

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For a happy, successful, productive team, a leader’s attitude has to model happiness, success, and productivity to the best of their ability.

ATTITUDE AFFECTS THE WORKPLACE 

No matter the reason behind an attitude, it will affect the people around you. Based on how they perceive it, employees positively or negatively absorb a leader’s attitude on two fronts: how the leader presents themselves in reaction to achievements, and the trust they demonstrate in their employees’ ability to achieve them.

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If your employees are grumpy, stressed out, or fearful and you don’t know why, it may be time to look in the mirror. More often than not, an employee’s attitude reflects what their leader demonstrates. Take a step back and describe the behavior of your employees. Then, take another step back and see how your behavior might be influencing them.

There have been times when a driven attitude has caused me to drive too fast. Once, we had just finished a phenomenal year, and within a day, we moved right onto the budget plan for the next year. One of my engineers called me out. He told me I had a reputation for viewing accomplishments as if they were “never enough,” so he asked me to give them a minute to be proud of what they’d accomplished so far. I realized my attitude was causing me to neglect their achievements and that part of managing attitude well is knowing when to pull back. Too much focus on results and only looking forward to the next achievement comes at the expense of building relationships, showing empathy, celebrating wins, and inspiring others. These leaders are less effective in the long run.

PERSONAL PROBLEMS CAN BRING UNINTENTIONAL ATTITUDE 

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Many people assume a grumpy boss must be grumpy about something work-related, but bosses, like anyone, can struggle with balancing work and something personal. When I was going through my divorce, I couldn’t entirely separate work from my personal problems, so I had to be really careful to keep my composure so those hassles stayed out of the business. I went to work with a smile on my face and laughed in the hallways, and I made sure the work environment continued to be a positive place. But over time, if leaders don’t resolve problems behind the scenes, they can lead to impulsive or destructive behavior in the office, which can negatively impact employees and company performance.

Still, even as leaders, we need to remember we’re only one person. While we want to keep personal problems out of the office, we don’t have to get through them in the office on our own. Find one or two trusted confidants at work. During my divorce, my confidants were people who had been through similar situations and created the support network I really needed at that time. Seek out someone who can relate to whatever it is you’re going through. They can provide you with a safe space to dump personal problems when they’re affecting your work so you can clear them from your attitude. And, if you can’t clear them and you snap at someone unexpectedly as a result, a confidant will know enough to tell employees not to worry—personal problems are behind that attitude and it’s not about work.

HOW TO REFLECT A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

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Whatever attitude you take on the inside, stay positive by showing that you believe whatever you’re doing is working on the outside. If I put out a sales goal of 20% growth but do nothing to prove we can get there, people will learn not to take my attitude and goals seriously. If I take the time to set up the goal, outline the reasons, obtain the tools, remove obstacles, and invest my efforts to show I truly believe we can reach it, others will believe it, too.

But a positive attitude isn’t about creating false hype either, even though you might still get accused of it. One time, some of my employees said our Wednesday snapshot meetings were a little too “rah-rah.” I told them I couldn’t help it—there were so many wonderful things to talk about. It’s not “rah-rah” if it’s real, so make sure your employees know you’re genuine when celebrating the company’s achievements.

There will always be times when life throws something at you that makes it feel nearly impossible to stay positive. In these situations, all we can do is try our best. When my kids played sports, before an event, I would always say, “Smile and have fun.” They might have gotten a little frustrated with my consistency, but I always believed smiling could change a person’s attitude for the better. I wanted my daughter, the pole vaulter, and my son, the baseball player, to know that even when they didn’t make the height or struck out, the most important part was that they always had fun. Smiling through life, they found more enjoyment in its ups and downs.

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Even when it gets hard, to the best of your ability, smile and have fun. This attitude will make everything you do more worthwhile. You may not hit a home run every time, or even most of the time, but you’ll enjoy the game much more along the way.


Cheri Beranek is the President and CEO of Clearfield, providing optical-fiber management and connectivity solutions across North America.

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