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What matters more – performance or attitude?

June 5, 2014 5 Comments

EKG Pulse Graph with Glowing Blue Line

Our reader poll today asks: Whom would you rather lead as a member of your team?

– High performer with an attitude problem: 44%
– Mediocre performer with an average attitude: 23%
– Low performer with a great attitude: 33%

Performance over attitude.  It seems many of you are satisfied to deal with attitude problems as long as the work gets done. It’s easy to rationalize, “He has a bad attitude, but he does such great work that I can’t do without him.” I encourage you to think more broadly of the impact a bad attitude has on your team. Your team members who might not be high performers see the high performers get away with having an attitude problem. It damages morale, and that attitude might even rub off on average or low performers. Address the attitude issue head-on. Explain to high performers that their attitude is hurting the team and its performance. If they’re true high performers, they’ll want to achieve in all areas, including having a positive attitude.

Do you agree with these poll results?  Let us know in the comments below!

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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These results were originally a SmartPulse poll in SmartBrief on Leadership which tracks feedback from more than 190,000 business leaders. Get smarter on leadership and sign up for the SmartBrief on Leadership e-newsletter.

5 Responses to “What matters more – performance or attitude?”

  1. Lorie L says:

    Tough choice! I’ve had both a high performer/bad attitude as well as low performer/great attitude on my team. Neither of them are ideal and both hurt the team’s morale.

    Our performance/attitude combo as the manager could sway someone’s lower points to balance out – but in the end, it’s their choice to make a change or our hand will be forced to make one for them.

    • Mark Wice says:

      It’s a matter of degree. I’ve had really high performing individuals with a somewhat negative attitude. One that wasn’t truly determental to the entire unit’s morale. But, she could run circles around everyone else.
      While I’ve also seen exactly what you’ve discussed where poor attitudes (bad behavior) negatively affects the rest of the unit, which more than offsets the benefit of a higher performing individual. If the individual isn’t willing to change for the benefit of the team, then the team might very well be better off without the individual in it.
      But, then that’s our jobs as manager/leader to affect a working balance of productivity and cohesion within our work groups. We aren’t paid the ‘big bucks’ to just sit and watch.

  2. Larry Beck says:

    I do not agree with these poll results. These results tend to run counter to much of the sentiment expressed by business pundits/gurus who tend to lean towards attitude first and then performance.

    From a managerial perspective, it is easier to ignore a bad attitude if the employee is delivering great performance. But as pointed out, the impact on the rest of the team is quite devastating. No team likes to see bad behavior rewarded. Further, having this dynamic on a team creates an artificial ceiling on the potential performance of the team as a whole. To be blunt, it is lazy and short sighted. What you get from the high performance of this bad attitude employee can not offset the loss of team performance. If all you want as a manager is stifled team performance, then ignoring this bad attitude is the way to go.

  3. Cheryl Kohlmetz says:

    Unfortunately it is an not either/or question, just as the nature/nurture debate doesn’t fall clearly on either side of the line.

    A base level of performance is required. Beyond that base level, attitude is the primary factor in an employees potential to grow and their abillity to drive team performance.

    If I have an employee who can either perform at a basic level or has the aptitude to do so, attitude will make or break their sucess in the role.

    In a few unfortunate cases, I have had employees whose capabilties did not align with the role and positive attitude was not enough to compensate.

  4. Kirana says:

    I can see why. You can probably work to turn around the attitude of a high performer, and meanwhile you’re getting performance, which keeps you afloat to continue working on the attitude. Preferring to manage such a person doesn’t need to mean you reward it – these are two different things. Only if you reward bad attitude will there be dissension in the team. But provided everyone is being coached on their gaps, the high performer is probably pulling the slack of the low performers so that you continue to be in business long enough for everyone to get developed.

    If a great attitude doesn’t lead to performance already, developing performance from a low performer is harder, and meanwhile the costs of the low performance endangers your business such that you can devote less time to training and coaching performance. It’s a negative cycle.

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