If you’re not getting ahead at work like you’d like to, maybe the problem is you! Is it time for an attitude adjustment? How can you tell?
Cultivating an Internal Locus of Control
The concept of “locus of control” is commonly used in the field of psychology to determine how people tend to view the world: do they feel that they can personally impact the path their lives take or do they feel that they are at the mercy of outside forces that will determine their success? Locus of control is generally expressed as either being internal or external.
As Richard B. Joelson, DSW, LCSW, writes for Psychology Today: “If a person has an internal locus of control, that person attributes success to his or her own efforts and abilities. A person who expects to succeed will be more motivated and more likely to learn. A person with an external locus of control, who attributes his or her success to luck or fate, will be less likely to make the effort needed to learn.”
It’s a concept that is also important in the business world. As John Peitzman, a Certified High-Performance Coach™, says: “We all need to be 100 percent accountable for our actions and attitude. Blaming others has no value and results in absolutely no positive impact. If you are not passionate and full of joy and enthusiasm in what you spend your time doing each day, then it’s time to take a look, and it may be time to make a change,” he says.
Choosing Your Response
If you find yourself in a place where you’re constantly feeling frustrated by your job and with the people around you, it’s time for some self-reflection.
Peitzman says that businesspeople who find themselves in this situation have three choices:
- Reframe the situation. “Find the joy, the positive aspects, the silver lining within whatever is happening to allow you to no longer be in a complaining state.”
- Remove yourself from the situation. “If it is truly that bad, and you’re not able to reframe it, then this may be the best option for the job or the relationship, or whatever the specific situation happens to be.”
- Continue complaining. This says Peitzman, “is the definition of insanity—doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”
Options number one, and two, he says are really the best options. “Don’t get trapped in choosing option three,” Peitzman advises. “Life is too short. If you feel the situation need to change, and you can literally feel this in your heart, then focus on options number one and two and watch your life transform.”
Angela Kenzslowe, PsyD, MBA, is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Purple Heart Behavioral Health, LLC. “Once you’ve eliminated external factors such as education or experience requirements, it’s time to look internally—or, in other words, at yourself,” she says.
Taking a Look in the Mirror
As Kenzslowe points out, there may be some external factors that are impacting your ability to get ahead in the workplace. However, these are tangible factors that should be relatively easy to assess. You know the position you’d like, you can get the requirements from the job description and then, if you’re still interested in that position, you can take steps to gain the education and experience desired.
But, if those external factors aren’t at work here, it’s time to take a look in the mirror.
“Sometimes your perceived attitude may be what’s holding you back,” says Kenzslowe. “You may think you are the most pleasant person to be around, yet you present as standoffish and unapproachable.” How to find out? Ask people you trust, advises Kenzslowe.
Some self-reflection can also serve to reveal whether you may in some way be hindering your own progress.
Stacy Caprio, a business coach, suggests the following simple exercise: “Think about the last five things your boss has asked you to do. If you pushed back on all of them to the tune of lessening your involvement or flat out saying no, then likely your attitude is holding you back from receiving more on your plate or advancing in your current position.”
Turning Things Around
Stewart Swayze is a certified executive coach and energy leadership index master practitioner. “The great thing about our attitude is that we can change or adjust it,” he says. He makes a distinction between catabolic (negative) and “anabolic (positive) perspectives.
“A catabolic attitude is destructive and draining,” he says. “An anabolic attitude is growth-oriented.” An anabolic attitude, says Swayze, “helps us, and others, achieve long-term positive action and successful results.” How do you know which side you fall on? He offers some clues:
- If you find yourself avoiding difficult situations, conversations, or feel at the “effect” of something or someone else, you are taking on a victim attitude. – Catabolic.
- If you are constantly focusing on continuously focus on “what’s wrong,” “what’s broken,” and, “who [or what] is to blame,” you are taking on a micro-manager attitude. – Catabolic
- If you look for opportunities in challenges and are as excited about the things that go wrong as the things that go right, you have an anabolic attitude. Everything and every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Russell Thackeray is a licensed clinical psychologist and corporate consultant. He offers the following advice for business professionals who need to change the way their attitude is impacting their career progression:
- Stop blaming others. “Recognize that your own career path—and where you are exactly on it—is the sum total of your own efforts, skills, and strategies. It has nothing to do with anyone else—ever.”
- Learn, learn, learn. Look for something every day that can help you develop in some way. “Constantly seek out areas of improvement and open your mind to better ‘better’ or ‘different.’ Take initiative and ask your manager or supervisor for three things in each category—you need to stop, start or continue—to help you get to the next level.”
If you’re not able to take these steps on your own, a mentor or advisor may be something to consider. It’s often helpful to work with a trusted, third-party advisor who can be objective in helping you spot areas where you need to improve, and identifying the resources and steps to take to make those improvements.