Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series.

This past week, I was having some routine blood work drawn up at the Presence St. Mary’s lab. Like some of you, this is just part of life every few months, so I have been there many times.

As I was waiting for the extraction, I noticed a quote by the legendary college football coach Lou Holtz posted on a bulletin board. It said “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Posting something like that can be a bit dangerous if you don’t live up to it. But in the case of St. Mary’s lab they always meet and exceed my expectations. I also noticed on the way out there was a colorful kiosk asking for my evaluation which I happily selected a super smiley face.

What Holtz says, though, rings true. Given who he is, I know the coach puts a premium on personal responsibility. In one sense we are primarily responsible for our own capabilities, motivation, and attitudes. But I’m sure if we were to ask him about it, he would agree that the origination and its managers also have a critical responsibility for all three.

Across the years, I have noticed excellent employees who were trapped in a toxic environment, and despite trying their best, their effectiveness was reduced by 20-50 percent. They eventually get burned out when they must fight an incompetent boss and/or a crushing bureaucracy.

On the other hand, we have people who are superb on all three attributes working in a positive supportive environment. It can dramatically multiply a person’s productivity. Liz Wiseman in her powerful book “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” confirms this with scientific evidence.

Let me further focus in this article what individuals can do in a proactive matter to bolster their minset–capabilities, motivation and attitude. In the next column we will cover the organization’s responsibilities.

At the individual level the best employees keep improving their abilities. This may be through additional degrees and formal education. But I would contend that attending workshops, reading, and especially teaching your co-workers and newer employees (and, yes in many cases your managers) may have an even higher payoff for you.

A few years ago, I wrote a column that made the case that the best way to learn something is to teach others. At the time, I had several readers confirm this back to me. This is true because to teach others you must research and prepare like never before.

Even if you are an acknowledged expert, you’ll find in preparing to teach others, you have to clarify your thinking. To get others to understand requires deepening your learning and then coherently being able to express what you know. In my 40-year education career in both the public and private sector, I have experienced this.

As to motivation, one of the best things you can do is to have a clear vision of where both you and your company are headed. Private companies make this a part of your development plan. They want you to determine, in consultation with them, where are you headed and want to go.

Across the years I have noticed especially in too many public or not for profit organizations, people seem to be afraid to listen to radio station WIIFM. What’s that? “What’s in it for me?” Either they or their managers consider it bad form to question anything but loyalty and selflessness to the organization. But in fact, the best of the best employees, no matter where they work, need to feel that they have a right to not only contribute but to grow for own benefit as well.

Finally, Holtz emphasizes attitude. From the time we were children we all got lectures from our parents, teachers, pastors, and bosses about having a good attitude. Volumes have been written about attitudes. Attitude is closely associated with feelings and emotions. But our emotions, sometimes for unknown reasons, can go up and down.

Some people by predisposition tend to a have a more favorable outlook. For others they must work harder. But as positive psychology reminds us, there are many things we can do to bolster our attitude. Included is doing things for others, maintaining a gratefulness list, and reviewing past successes and accomplishments.

Almost 150 years ago, the widely acknowledged founder of American psychology, William James, found it is easier to behave our way into a good attitude, than waiting for a good attitude to just happen and then behave positively. Seems that James was the true originator of Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan.

Dr. Don Daake is professor emeritus at Olivet and has an MBA from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. from Florida State University. He has published nationally recognized articles in Heath Care Management Review, the Journal of Managerial Issues, Christian Business Association Review and written several book chapters. Contact him at ddaake@olivet.edu.

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