by Neil Fiore, PhD

Managers, CEOs, Purchasers, Sales Reps, and Customer Service personnel are expected – even under the most difficult of circumstances — to maintain a professional attitude. But when your supplier fails to meet a deadline, when a strike keeps you from arriving on time for a meeting, or when venture capitalists withdraw their interest as the stock market turns bearish, how can anyone maintain a positive attitude? Forget about maintaining control. You’re more likely to shout, “Why do I always have to do everything myself? Why can’t other people just do their jobs? Am I who has to show up on time? I give up.”

Whether you’re closing a sale, completing a report, or making a presentation, losing control of your attitude can divert you from achieving your objective and can damage the health of your business relationships. On a recent business trip to conduct training in the Middle East, the stress of having flights cancelled at the last minute and the language barriers magnified the usual logistical problems we face everyday doing business. I had to work hard to avoid slipping into a negative attitude.

Repeatedly, I found myself thinking of the advice I give to my audiences: “Remember, the real pros consistently perform at their peak, not because they’re always in control of logistics and their personnel, but because they’re in control of their attitude.”

Attitude control involves the practice and application of three peak performance skills.

1. Effective Self-Coaching

When Michael Jordan quit basketball to fulfill his father’s wish that he play baseball, reporters asked him: “How can you quit basketball after being voted the most valuable player? What if you fail at baseball?”

Michael Jordan, a master at playing in The Zone where nothing distracts him from giving his best performance, said:

“I’m strong enough as a person to face failure and move on. If I fail I won’t feel bad. I can accept failure. What I will not accept from myself is not trying.”

In that one statement Michael Jordan tells us that — regardless of the odds and regardless of the outcome — he will be there for himself, on his side all the way through the game. Effective Self-Coaching means that we offer ourselves safety rather than threats, criticism and worry. Like Michael Jordan we need to be strong enough as a person to be an effective coach in our lives – keeping ourselves focused on core principles, helping recover from setbacks, and making ourselves feel safe enough to take the risks that make us champions in our field.

2. Shifting to a Leadership Perspective

The gremlins inside our heads complain and whine, distracting us from doing our personal best. Identify the specific words and feelings of these gremlins and be ready with alternatives that shift your attention to effective, goal-oriented actions. Use your usual or “default” reactions to stress and setbacks to wake-up the Leadership role and perspective in you. From this perspective and role — of leader, CEO, executive, coach or project manager – we are can take charge of our attitude and our life.

Ellen, one of my executive coaching clients and the CEO of a technical editing firm in Silicon Valley, used this technique to double her income in 3 months. She says:

“I used to work with my nose to the grindstone, faxing at 3 AM, totally out of touch with my commitments to my health and my family. Now, I’m doing the work that relates to the bottom line and I’m done before 7 p.m. I’m working from a project manager’s perspective where I see the big picture, focus on getting results, and maintain my commitment to my personal life.”

3. Choosing to Show Up

When we’re in charge of our attitude we don’t use the victim’s inner dialogue: “I have to show up but I don’t want to.” Instead we speak about “choosing to show up to do our best.” Choice is an executive function that involves considering the risks, consequences, and one’s commitments before deciding how to act. Choice is an act that ends ambivalence and procrastination and calls for a united team effort to achieve an objective. It automatically puts you in a leadership role and perspective.

When the computers crash (again), when there’s another delay in production, or when loss or illness disrupts your personal life, you’re still expected to carry on. To consistently deliver as a true professional — regardless of the setting and circumstances – you’ll need something more powerful than the old “grin and bear it” technique. You’ll need to support yourself with the safety of Effective Self-Coaching, rapidly shift to a Leadership Role and perspective, and Choose to Show Up to demonstrate that you truly are a peak performer. When you use these skills you’ll be in control of your attitude.

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