Mohandas Gandhi is quoted as saying, “Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”
Most of us, leaders included, have needed an attitude adjustment at one time or another. Our evaluations of people, objects, events, and ideas are often framed in the context of attitude. Researchers disagree about the specific definition for attitude but do seem to find consensus around the idea that attitude has a conscious and unconscious component. Gandhi’s quote makes it clear that attitudes do have consequences.
Changing one’s attitude is largely a response to communication. Leaders who are intelligent and self-confident are less easily persuaded by one-sided messages. The credibility of the messenger (perceived expertise and trustworthiness) affects how easily one’s attitude shifts to a new position. Because emotion also plays a role it is easy to see why no-smoking and global warning campaigns can be successful tools to influence attitudes.
Leaders who demonstrate largely negative behaviors in the workplace can create an environment where fear and mistrust poison the attitudes of direct reports and colleagues leading to decreased morale and productivity. If that same leader would adjust his or her attitude to be more positive it is likely the workplace surroundings would change for the better as well.
Measuring attitudes is inherently difficult. A leader might explicitly report that they harbor little prejudice while implicitly hiding their real intentions. Attitudes are further complicated by social norms. The pressure to fit in could influence one’s willingness to shift their attitude.
Gandhi’s connection between positive thoughts (attitudes) and words, behaviors, habits, and values is prescriptive. A leader who is willing to adjust his or her attitude, especially in a positive way, will leave a legacy that is worth emulating. As Martha Washington once said, “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”