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Author's profile photo Jason Cao

Coach’s Corner – You Have Aptitude. What About Attitude?

Around this time, most of us are reflecting on our achievements in the past year, while planning for the next. I’d like to share a simple management model I learned from a mentor that I’ve adapted for use with my clients as a career and leadership coach. It involves aptitude and attitude.

For managers leading teams, this 2×2 model evaluates members based on levels (high or low) of the criteria of aptitude (proficiency in performing work) and attitude (approach and manner towards performing work).  The four quadrants below show the actions that managers can take with team members they evaluate as having either high or low levels of aptitude and attitude.

High Aptitude

High Attitude


Low Aptitude

High Attitude


High Aptitude

Low Attitude


Low Aptitude

Low Attitude

(Let Go)

This is a very simple model, and because of this I initially raised a few objections:

  1. Very simplified view – people are more complex than that.
  2. Binary categories – people’s aptitude and attitude is more a lifecycle and spectrum of changes.
  3. Limited use – not all people are managers.
  4. Danger of bias – labels tend to follow individuals even when they have changed.
  5. Subjective – especially when it comes to evaluating an individual’s attitude.

However, I soon realized that this simple model can help guide managers when they need to quickly determine a course of action for managing team members. More importantly, the model gives me, and most of us, a unique perspective into the how we must present ourselves to those who evaluate our performance, whether it is our managers or our clients.

Aptitude in functional skills can be learned through various modes of training and education. The criteria I’m more interested in developing is attitude. You may know from my interviews with entrepreneurs years ago (sorry, videos were removed when blogposts were migrated a couple times), that they also thought focusing on developing the right attitude was more important aptitude. And just to connect the dots, read my last Coach’s Corner blogpost to learn why adopting an entrepreneurial mindset is especially important in this time of our lives. I’m only saying that the method of developing aptitude is more clear-cut, and managers have the responsibility to provide resources and training for it. Attitude is something individuals have control over, although it is not as clear what exactly the ‘right’ attitude is or how to overcome the pitfalls of being misjudged.

Taking into account the shortcomings I’ve listed above, these are a few strategies I’ve developed to make this simple model more useful for both managers and individuals:

  • Understand team culture – the expectations and protocols established by the team’s leader should guide you. Fortunately or unfortunately, team managers create the culture and influence the career trajectory of their team members.  Will your questions or ideas be viewed as helpful, or will it be viewed as disruptive and obstructive?
  • Reduce subjectivity – even good intentions may get misinterpreted. Convert your intentions into observable behaviours, such as raising your hand and speaking up to volunteer or to contribute to a project. Identify outcomes and results that takes the guess work out of demonstrating your willingness to learn and approaching tasks.
  • Develop an entrepreneurial mindset – develop and exhibit characteristics like optimism, ongoing learning, curiosity, goal-drive but willing to try a new path.

Like most things we want to improve, these take effort and practice. You got this!

What strategies can you share to develop or manage your attitude in work and life?


Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

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      Author's profile photo Daniel Wroblewski
      Daniel Wroblewski

      Very clear and well-crafted blog, reminding us that there is more to doing our jobs than technical knowledge.

      However, you seemed to raise very serious objections, or at least warnings, to this methodology. Yet, in the very next paragraph the blog seems to ignore these objections. I think the objections you raise are quite serious.

      While attitude is critical, and there are people who are contrarian and just bring people down, in general there is a "corporate" or "group" style that people are expected to adhere to, and contrarians who actually have something to say are not listened to, and certainly not sought out. As an illustration, take Michael Burry, self-diagnosed with Asperger's depicted in the movie in "The Big Short" who went against basically the entire world and bet on the housing crisis. He comes to the correct answer because he is completely uninfluenced by popular wisdom or convention, and he has the ability to find the flaw in the weeds of the system. I think this could happen more often if managers enabled it.

      I must say that managing a group of people is quite difficult, to enable all its members to flourish no matter their style. Thanks for raising the issues. 😀


      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for reading the post Dan and for your feedback!

      As with any models, especially those depicting human psychology and behaviours, the biggest risk is over-simplification. I wanted to make sure to represent both perspectives, and allow critical thinkers (such as yourself) to decide when this model is of use, and when it is not. My reasons for looking past the risks, and focusing on the usefulness of this model is indeed described in my post.

      You shared a really good example of how culture (in your case, industry culture) matters in what is interpreted as good vs. bad attitude. When it comes to team culture, the team manager directly influences this - either by encouraging debate and contrary opinions, or by actions that discourage and punish those who share different views.

      Author's profile photo Michelle Crapo
      Michelle Crapo

      I like it!   Attitude is based on culture.

      When you are finding a job that fits with you.  Use this chart to your advantage.   Try to figure out the culture of the company.  Easy when you get to your interviews ask questions that are important to you.   A quick search of the internet may yield some answers.   A quick look at your Linkedin friends and SAP community friends may give you some more clues.  And of course, knowing yourself and how you work is very important.

      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Great tips, Michelle! It's amazing what we can learn about company and team culture from a quick chat with friend from the community! 🙂