“It’s my anorexic boss’ birthday. This means there’s a certain amount of inter-office pressure to stand around the conference table, eating crappy food and pretending to worship her. Acting for five minutes like Janice doesn’t make all our lives miserable is the hardest work I’ll do all day.”

-Wesley Gibson, Wanted

Leaders Set The Pace with Their Attitude Control

There I was, standing in Terminal A of the San Jose Airport, totally unaware that I was about to get a lesson in attitude control.

I was waiting for the Director of Sales from a large, Southern California technology company. We had talked a few times over the previous month as he was trying to get me to work for him as a sales engineer. So, we agreed to meet at 8:00 AM this morning at the San Jose Airport during his trip through the Bay Area.

Well, I arrived early and waited for him in our agreed meeting location in the concession area. When the Director, arrived, he walked up and introduced himself. He was cordial enough and he seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of having me join his team.

“Bob” (not his real name) asked if I needed anything and I told him a cup of coffee would do. We walked over to the concession area to get him some water and a cup of coffee for me.

Well, this was not a Starbucks shop.

The hired help was not firing on all cylinders. The big coffee urn was bone dry and we couldn’t find anyone to tell about the empty coffee urn.

When someone finally showed up, he said he was brewing more coffee and it would take a few minutes. Now, having done some time behind a counter, I can empathize with what the counter help goes through when these things happen.

Leaders Maintain Attitude Control, Responding to Situation, not Reacting to Them

Now, I have seen good service and I’ve seen poor service. I’ve seen servers push themselves to 110% when they only had 85% to give. I’ve also seen servers take an apathetic attitude toward the clientele. This service team was not equipped to handle the overflow they were experiencing this morning. Anyone with a marginal management background could seen they were doing the best they could with what they had.

Which is why I was surprised at “Bob’s” reaction.

He went off talking about “how slow these people were”. He called back several times in a huffed manner, asking where the coffee was and how much longer it was going to take. In the interest of time, I told him to forget about the coffee. Still, he fumed saying that the situation was insufferable and that the hired help needed to “get their act together”.

Mind you, he wasn’t frothing at the mouth. But the behavior was far from a calm, controlled graciousness that I’ve come to expect from managers and leaders. We did get an opportunity to talk for about 15 minutes. During that time, we discussed company outlook and what he was planning to do with his group.

Later in the month, I did get an opportunity to talk to the rest of his team in the Bay Area. Overall, I found the job very appealing. And in terms of my career, it would have been a very beneficial move.

As a Leader, Your Attitude Sets the Tone of Your Team’s Environment

In spite of the favorable upside, when it came time for me to make a decision, I couldn’t shake his attitude breakdown at the airport. If that small inconvenience threw him for a loop, what was going to happen when something bigger happened… like his reps not meeting their numbers?

I know “Bob” had to catch a flight out of the area. But in cases like these, successful leaders take a page from the US Marines’ play book: Adapt and Overcome.

I liked the Bay Area team and the company direction. But, when it came time for me to decide, I politely declined the position.

“Bob’s” reaction was just what I expected based on my observations at the airport.

Dale Carnegie Offers Ways to Achieve Attitude Control

In Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Stop Worrying And Start Living, his Principle #12 states:

Decide just how much anxiety a thing may be worth and refuse to give it more.

And Principle #9 states:

Don’t fuss about trifles.

Taking it a step further, Richard Carlson wrote a whole book around Principle #9 entitled Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff — And It’s All Small Stuff.

As leaders, we need to be mindful of the impact our attitude has on the people around us. Which means we have to be in control of our attitude and respond, not react, to situations. Decide how much anxiety we are willing to give to a particular circumstance and don’t let the small stuff get to you. Learn to let it go.

Something to keep in mind when you’re out there hunting for new talent or leading your teams. Remember, they are watching you and asking “Is this person creating an environment where I can thrive?”

If you aren’t creating that environment, they will leave.

Exercise extreme attitude control. Don’t sweat the small stuff and create a supportive environment for your people. Your team will be there when you need them.