Attitude and Leadership

2 Aug

Creativity has been defined as a function of attitude multiplied by knowledge, evaluation, and imagination by Ruth Noller. Noller was the world’s second computer scientist and the originator of the term bug to describe glitches in computer systems. For her, the ability for a person or an organization to generate useful and novel options for themselves or with other begins with attitude. Seems obvious doesn’t it?

1660s, via Fr. attitude (17c.), from It. attitudine “disposition, posture,” also “aptness, promptitude,” from L.L. aptitudinem (nom. aptitudo; see aptitude). Originally 17c. a technical term in art for the posture of a figure in a statue or painting; later generalized to “a posture of the body supposed to imply some mental state” (1725). Sense of “settled behavior reflecting feeling or opinion” is first recorded 1837. Connotations of “antagonistic and uncooperative” developed 1962 in slang.

As the concept, attitude initially described the interpretation a viewer has about a physical posture of a statue. Its meaning slowly creeped up to the meta physical level and nows defines a psychological phenomena that describes how a person feels towards something.

In the workplace, attitude helps to shape the workplace by directly influencing motivation and productivity. The military offers a great example of how the use of symbolic rank and perceived authority can affect an attitude. In 2001 I served as a chaplain assistant where one of my charges was to check the morale of the battalion, which consisted of 4 companies with more than 1,000 people when trainees were included. Within the 4 companies, Drill Sergeants trained future soldiers the skills of the trade and had their own way of keeping morale up which included “smoking” an insubordinate private. The Drill Instructor would dig in and command the private to engage in various exercises until mud formed when sweat and dirt caked on the soldier’s uniform. The private’s face shone red like fire when the smoking was complete. Usually, the punishment was not that harsh, but I have seen it escalate to high levels and intensity when perceived racism was involved. The tactic is to wear out the person with physical fitness to control their attitude and curb their behavior. If they have no energy, how can they resist? If they are punished, they will listen. Other trainees observed what happened to the soldier that was smoked and conversations among those closest to him were always directed avoiding getting “smoked” themselves. From fear the soldiers bonded and chose to spend their efforts avoiding the drill sergeants by shining their boots, a drill sergeant sanctioned activity. The lesson learned is that the Drill Sergeants are dangerous people with whom creativity must be tempered.¬† Supposing that these soldiers are really honest and hard-working people like those in most workplaces, how valuable was it for them to learn how to shine their boots as a solitary activity than work with systemic process that handled their motivation and ideas? How might an organization develop a system to allow new options to be explored?


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