Does Attitude or Ability Determine Your Success?

Posted on: November 17th, 2017 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

I noticed the other morning that a breakfast television show was running a segment on whether your future is determined by your ability or your outlook. You know that I am going to say – outlook or mindset will ultimately decide your future! However, it is also true that other factors can have influence over whether you will succeed or not. For example, intelligence is an attribute that can take you places – provided of course that you have the right outlook!

Predictors of Success

It’s sad to say that in Australia postcode is one of the most accurate predictors of a person’s success. According to the national ‘Dropping off the Edge’ report postcodes like 2839, 3047 and 6770 were among the most disadvantaged areas in Australia and children from those towns struggle to do well at school.

Why is postcode important? Well, if you live in those communities: Brewarrina in north-western New South Wales, Broadmeadows in outer Melbourne, and Halls Creek in Western Australia – you will face multiple obstacles that make it harder for you to succeed. In Brewarrina there are teacher shortages, while in Broadmeadows there is widespread poverty; most families are low income and there is high unemployment. In the remote Northern Territory community of Halls Creek, there are teacher shortages, resource shortages and widespread poverty. On average many of the children in Halls Gap score six times below the national standards. And yet, I still believe that if you have the right outlook you can overcome obstacles. I came from a poor migrant family with alcohol problems, but still managed to prosper. That doesn’t mean I don’t support improving the quality of life in the areas of Brewarrina, Broadmeadows and Halls Creek. I believe all Australian children deserve a good education and no one should grow up in poverty, especially not in a country like Australia that has so many natural resources.

Still, postcode is an accurate predictor of success because if you grow up in a rich suburb you most likely have parents, who can buy you a quality education.

Lou Holtz

Please do not misinterpret what I am saying. Being born with a silver spoon in your mouth does not guarantee success – but all the statistics show that it can help. Yet, I still believe that your outlook is the ultimate determinate of your success! American football coach Lou Holtz basically described the recipe for success like this: ‘Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.’

By ability I think Holtz is referring to intelligence or natural skill. If you are highly intelligent or skilled you are lucky, but to make the best use of this God-given ability you also need motivation and attitude. I also believe that all of us have talents, but some talents are more obvious than others.

Motivation is basically the reasons or rationale, which propel you to succeed. Do you want to make money, give to others, be the best version of yourself? Motivation is your internal driver, your engine, while attitude is your mental state – your thought process, how you see the world. Do you have a positive or negative outlook? Do you have faith in yourself and believe you can succeed?

Intelligence versus Attitude

Intelligence will only take you so far. Smart people can figure out how to do their job and may be good with the writing components, but it is a healthy attitude that helps you build strong relationships at work. It is your attitude that enables you to approach your work with enthusiasm. It is your attitude that guides your emotions so you treat your co-workers with respect. An adventurous, confident attitude is needed if you want to start your own business. Psychologist Carol Dweck from Stanford University has studied attitude and performance, and concluded that attitude is a better predictor of success than intelligence.

Dr Dweck has two categories for human attitudes. You either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe they are who they are and cannot change. When they face a problem they cannot solve, they feel hopeless. People with a growth mindset believe they can always improve. They outperform fixed mindset people, even when they have a higher IQ, because growth mindsets welcome challenges – these are opportunities to learn. Dr Dweck says that success is ultimately about how you deal with failure. “Failure is information,” she said. “We label it failure, but it’s more like, ‘This didn’t work, and I’m a problem solver, so I’ll try something else.’”

The Four Factors Critical to Success

The Harvard Business School has found that there are four factors critical to success: information, intelligent, attitude and skills, but this Harvard’s survey established that in​​​​telligence and skills combined, accounted for only 7 percent of success while attitude and talent accounted for 93 percent. Employers also report that they would prefer to recruit a not-brilliant person with a great attitude rather than a brilliant person with a bad attitude. I don’t know if you watch ‘The Big Bang’ but the Sheldon character is pretty much unemployable. Intellectual giants can be emotional dwarfs. Big companies increasingly hire for attitude and train for skill. Recruiters focus on candidate’s attitudes not IQ. There is even a new catchcry in the corporate world – “Attitude more than aptitude determines altitude”.

Sometimes attitude is referred to emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman,  the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ defines emotional intelligence as “being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathise and to hope.” So yes, attitude always trumps ability. If you want to succeed in this life you need to be a person who is motivated to learn new skills, think creatively, bounce back from failure and be able to work in a team.

It is easy to think that people born with great brains have it all, but that is not true. The real determinant of success is attitude and a great attitude is something you can work on and build every day.


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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