Can One Bad Attitude Destroy Your Team?

By Kevin G. Armstrong

Last year while working with a management team, I noticed that the CEO of the company could not leave her cell phone alone. She checked it constantly throughout the daylong session. When I mentioned my observation, her excuse was that her clients were big hitters; they had to have access to her when they needed her.

Some may find that to be a reasonable excuse, but the problem is if we all answered our cell phones every time they beeped, we would get nothing done. This statement is supported by professionals who have researched extensively in the effects of multitasking, including Jay Papasan, author of The One Thing, and Clifford Nass, who said:

“I was sure they had some secret ability, but it turns out that high multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy. Multitaskers [are] just lousy at everything.”

So I challenged the CEO on her excuse. She wasn’t prepared to change, so I withdrew.

When someone has a stubborn, uncooperative, narcissistic, or selfish attitude, how do you change it? To answer this question, we must first get alignment around the word “attitude,” because there are many different definitions.

“Attitude” is just the way one thinks. “Mindset” is a popular word now, but it’s just another word for attitude. Both attitude and mindset are just the way one thinks. When you tell me I have a “bad attitude,” you are telling me you don’t like the way I think. My actions are driven by my mind, and my mind drives the way I think.

More scientifically, our senses serve as filters of reality that relay information about each situation to our brains. Because we are programmed based upon past experience, a perception is created with each situation—either negative, positive or neutral. This perception forms our attitude, which guides our actions. The only way to adjust this perception (attitude), and our reaction, is through self-reflection to break down the programming. This requires a high level of self-awareness, which only you, the individual, can attain.

Ask any electrical engineer and they will confirm that negative energy is more powerful than positive. For purposes of making a point, I like to say that negative energy is ten times more powerful than positive energy; so a negative attitude is ten times more powerful than a positive attitude.

A negative attitude is ten times more powerful than a positive attitude. Click To Tweet

Therefore, if you have 10 people on your team with positive attitudes, and one person with a negative attitude boards, what just happened to your team’s energy? If you are thinking that it neutralized, you’re correct. But what most don’t realize is that the team’s energy is actually spiraling downwards because negative people recruit. Unless you want to crash as a team, the negative attitude must be shifted, or abandoned.

So how do you “shift” an attitude from negative to positive? Well, in short, you can’t. You can’t change another person’s attitude; you can only change your own. You can “invite” the person to change their attitude by letting him or her know where they are not meeting critical expectations—what you are observing, the impact it is having on the team, and what you need changed. The only attitude you have the ability to change is your own.

When I work with leadership and management teams, I have them write down my Two Rules of Attitude. The second rule is the one they often ignore, or are determined to prove wrong:

  1. You can’t change another person’s attitude, mindset, or way of thinking. You can only provide the environment for that change to occur.
  2. The closer the person is to us, or the more value they bring, the more we want to ignore rule #1.

It’s sometimes difficult to be a trusted advisor like myself because we like to see positive change in people. Our careers depend on it. But you can’t change people who don’t want to be changed. You can’t effectively teach unless they want to learn. When one is ready for the lesson, the teacher will appear; if one isn’t ready for the lesson, it is my job to realize that I can’t help and let my client know that.

If you manage people you have the exact same responsibility. When you have a bad attitude on your team, make no mistake that your team is spiraling downwards until you deal with it. And while you are dealing with it, never forget the two rules.


Kevin G. Armstrong is a speaker, business advisor, disruptor, and author of The Miracle Manager: Why True Leaders Rarely Make Great Managers with ForbesBooks. Learn more at kevingarmstrong.com.

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