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  • Writer's pictureChuck Cusumano

Attitude or Aptitude

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins creates a wonderful metaphor of a bus representing an organization and the bus driver serving as the leader of that organization. The book goes on to explain one of the formulas that differentiates good companies from great ones: great ones get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, the wrong people off the bus, and then figure out where to go. Or in other words, “First Who, then What?” So, who are the right people?

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” – Zig Ziglar

Was Zig Ziglar correct in his statement or was this just a great line given by a motivational speaker to sell more of his books and training? As a consulting company, we have a saying we like to have all of our clients memorize – and we’ve even written a blog about it! It’s “As evidenced by what?” We believe that all of your decisions should have a basis in evidence. Here are two pieces of evidence that we believe tells us that Zig Ziglar knew what he was talking about:

  • In his book, Learned Optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman reports that attitude is a considerably more significant predictor of success than IQ, grade average, or almost any other factor investigated.

  • Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck tells us in her book, Mindset, that her research shows that a person’s core attitude falls into one of two mindsets: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset does not believe in and cannot handle change. It wants to continue in the same way and avoid feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed. A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that improvement is possible. It welcomes challenges and sees them as an opportunity to learn and to grow. The growth mindset puts in a lot of effort and does not give up at the first inconvenience, detour, or setback. The research suggests that having a positive growth mindset (attitude) is a much better predictor of overall success than aptitude. Our experience has shown us that the organizations that attract and retain the best talent have a high percentage of growth-minded individuals who are pushing innovation and are comfortable with change. These are the right people to have on the bus.

So why must it be attitude versus aptitude? It shouldn’t be! We should always strive to hire the smartest people with the best attitudes possible. However, in most cases, selection of a potential new hire starts with a review of their resume, which typically only highlights skills and aptitude. It is not until we sort, rank, and prioritize candidates based on aptitude that the attitude ranking comes in (the interview). In the best case, we hire high-aptitude/high-attitude people to sit on the bus. However, if we do not get the best-case scenario, then the sorting process is biased towards aptitude. We suggest that you flip the process and sort for attitude first, aptitude second!

But our present-day system of efficiency keeps the process as is. Artificial Intelligence does a lot of the sorting for us. All the major job recruiting sites sort by key words and minimum qualifications before being sent to a person to re-sort it again. It is efficient and fast in most cases, but it sorts, or values, the less important information first.

So, how can we adjust the process to set ourselves and our organizations up for a greater percentage of success if we believe that a high-attitude/high-aptitude person is the best person to put on our bus? Reverse the process. Flip it on its head! Embrace a growth mindset and embrace change! Here are a few things that we can start to do if we want a different outcome to set our organization up for success:

  1. Lower your standards! Yes, we did just say that! There has become an ever-increasing educational inflation built into our process. Do we really need the candidate to have a graduate degree? Do they even need a four-year degree? Keep your filter at the front of the process as low as necessary. Yes, it will mean you let more people through, but if you are not going to change the filtering system, then at least change the filters. We see so many companies that have a founder or CEO with less formal education than what they are requiring for entry-level or middle-level leadership.

  2. Give a short assessment at the application stage. Sure, it will cost a little more money and time to set that up on the front end, but how much more money and time will you save when you get the right people on the bus the first time? Have the applicants do an online assessment measuring their attitude, not their aptitude. At least you will begin to more promptly sort the traits you interview for later on.

  3. Conduct better training on how to interview. There are so many people making hiring decisions or are part of the selection process but have been given little to no training on how to interview. In many cases, they are just looking for people that they “feel good” about or feel comfortable with. They disguise this way of interviewing as making sure there is a good “cultural” fit. But when we challenge what attributes the company is specifically looking for in their cultural fit, it has never been defined.

  4. List out and define what traits or attributes you are searching for in regard to attitude. Then set your system to look for those traits in the recruiting process.

If you want more advice, help in designing assessments tools, our suggestions for interview assessments to use, training for your team on how to interview better, or just a review of your current systems to see if they’re running effectively, give us a shout at We are always here to Help you do, what you do, better!

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