What’s the number one thing that holds most people back from success?
It’s not intelligence or hard work.
It’s your attitude.
Sound like the drivel your parents told you when you were 16 that inspired eye-rolling? That’s what I thought, too.
But then I kept seeing the same thing over and over from experts and research…
The War For Talent Is a Myth
Marketing genius Seth Godin says it’s actually a war for attitude:
What does Harvard tell its MBA students is the number one thing when negotiating salary?
First, they need to like you. That’s the first component. The things you do that make them like you less make it less likely that you are going to get what you want…
Now I’m not saying attitude is everything. There’s experience, education and other factors, of course, but…
…you’d be surprised how little even some of those matter.
Hard working? Meh. Overrated.
Stanford MBA school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer explains the research shows performance is only loosely tied to who gets ahead.
Studies show being liked affects performance reviews a lot more than actual performance.
It’s a Popularity Contest—And Often for a Good Reason
If you catch yourself saying, “But I’m right and they’re wrong!” — congratulations, you now have a confirmed attitude problem.
Yes, it is a popularity contest — and not necessarily unfairly.
People with more friends at the office perform better at the office.
The best predictor of team success is not smarts or effort — it’s how team members feel about one another.
It’s Not About “Fair,” It’s About “Trust”
Don’t scream “That’s not fair!” Life is not a strict meritocracy like grade school.
School can warp our heads. In the working world there’s rarely one exam where you’re an individual contributor who gets an all-defining grade.
In the education system, collaboration is called “cheating.” In business it’s the main way things get done.
And wherever there is collaboration, there’s the issue of trust.
Does the company trust you’re on its side? Do the company’s leaders trust you’re aligned with their mission and goals?
Hard work might not always be rewarded but research shows true believers get ahead:
A recently published BYU business study finds that employees who are “true believers” in the mission of their organization are more likely to increase in status and influence than non-believers…
The study found those who exhibit a strong belief in a brand’s mission or cause become more influential in important company circles, while those simply focused on punching the clock become more peripheral players – regardless of formal company position or overall performance.
Cynthia Shapiro, a former HR professional, lays things out pretty clearly.
Highly skilled employees, with seemingly great value to their organizations, are let go every day because they are perceived to be a potential risk and cannot be trusted. Conversely, employees are being promoted who don’t have the best skills and may even have to be taught how to do the job, at great expense and time, because they appear to be in alignment and the company feels they can be trusted over others.
What To Do Next
Keep in mind the lesson of Don Quixote:
If you want to be a knight, act like a knight.
How’s this apply to the office? Here’s my workplace equivalent:
Be the person you were in your interview.
That’s what they hired. That’s what they hoped they were getting for their money.
You were positive, enthusiastic, well-prepared and aimed to please.
What more could a company ask for?
For more workplace insights from my extended interview with Stanford MBA school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, sign up for the free weekly email update here.
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.