On Attitude

Approximately two years ago, in my class on Authentic Leadership, we read an article (can’t find the citation–sorry!) on how having a positive attitude led to better working results in every single profession. Except in attorneys, which probably says a lot about my career choice to be a Leader of Geeks in the legal industry, but that’s not actually the topic of this post.

I find that geeks easily fall into sub-optimal attitudes, which usually fall into two categories. The first is what I call the “stupid user” category, where they develop the attitude that anyone who doesn’t work in their department or on computers is too stupid to function. The other I call the “end of the world” category, where they develop a Chicken Little attitude about anything that goes wrong.

A good example of the “stupid user” attitude is the Saturday Night Live sketch, Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy. From Wikipedia:

In the sketch, Fallon portrays “Nick Burns”, a caricature of the stereotypically condescending computer expert. Burns is the systems administrator for a large corporation, who is apparently always on-call to support technical problems. He is presented as a nerd, wearing multiple pagers and cellular phones.

He would start troubleshooting a problem by rattling off instructions to the character in confusing technical jargon, and quickly gets fed up by their relative technical ineptitude, eventually yelling his catchphrase, “MOVE!” He then sits at the keyboard and fixes the problem himself, gloating at the relative ease of the solution (“Was that so hard?”). There are two other recurring lines in the sketches: at the beginning of the segment, whenever it is mentioned that Nick Burns is coming into the office, Chris Kattan‘s character mutters, “I don’t like that guy”, and at the end of the segment, Burns exits, and comes back sarcastically yelling, “Oh by the way, YOU’RE WELCOME!”

My favorite example for the “sky is falling” attitude comes from real life. At one point, I had the pleasure of experiencing two server room waterfalls in one week’s time. After the first waterfall, I brought someone who is a software engineer in real life with me to help with the clean-up. He spent his entire time there saying things like, “You’re so screwed.” When I asked him (not as politely as I should have) why he kept doing that, he said that it was normal for his work environments. “We sit around and talk about what a mess things are, then we figure out how to fix them.” I didn’t take him with me to clean up after the second waterfall…

Neither of these attitudes is a good working attitude. The first attitude is antithetical to customer service; the users won’t like the geeks, because they feel like they’re being talked down to or belittled all the time. The second attitude leads to negativity and frustration–it is simply not a positive attitude to have.

In my work environments, I watch for these attitudes and actively discourage them for several reasons. First, I really want to create a service organization inside my law firm. Second, it’s just more fun to work around positive people. Finally, I want better work product from my geeks, and, since they’re not attorneys, a positive attitude leads to better working results.