Sunday, March 07, 2004

The Human Factor: Attitude, not aptitude, is decisive

By Felix Abisheganaden

SO the Selangor State Government has decided to send its “lazy, procrastinating and perpetually late” civil servants to “reform school” from June. If this does not shape them up “back they go for another course”, Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times. According to him, some 10 per cent of the 50,000 civil servants in the State are "problematic". Before our MB packs his reform schools with so-called "lazy" candidates, it may be well for him to consider two points.

The first, according to human resource specialists, is that there are really no "lazy" people. They may be bored and lack enthusiasm. These are symptoms, they say, that are commonly associated with those who do not have particular interests or goals.

The second point is motivation. This is not something that is outside of a person. It is ignited from a fire or spirit within. No reform school can help if that spark does not exist within an individual.

The answer, then, is changing attitudes. As inter-personal communications expert Richard L. Weaver said in a paper presented at a workshop: "it is attitude, not aptitude, that determines altitude." Philosopher Lowell Peacock put it this way: "Attitude is the first quality that marks the successful man. If he has a positive attitude and is a positive thinker who likes challenges, then he has half his success achieved.

"On the other hand, if he is a negative thinker who is narrow-minded and refuses to accept new ideas and has a defeatist attitude, he hasn't got a chance." Any success guru will tell you that it is the phenomenon of the "motivation cycle" that governs our behaviour. When there is a need — irrespective of whether it be money, food, a promotion or love — the power of that need will spur you to action.

So, if 10 per cent of Selangor civil servants are perceived to be lazy, they are actually bored individuals who neither enjoy their work, nor see rewards — not necessarily financial — worth striving for.

Other problems occur when workers fail to reach certain desired goals. These could be manifested in a variety of ways such as depression, hostility and other negative reactions including ignoring the 8am punch-in time.

Very often, promising students have been told that no matter what they pursue, they will do well. On the other hand, certain top achievers in life have proved their student day critics hopelessly wrong. All because of their own strong attitudes.

This is how President Abraham Lincoln was described by his teachers: "When you consider that Abe has had only four months of school, he is very good with his studies, but he is a daydreamer and asks foolish questions." Another individual who was not highly thought of was described in these words by his teachers: "At 10 years of age he is only just beginning to read and write. He shows signs of improving, but you must not set your sights too high for him." What is too high? Woodrow Wilson became the 28th president of the United States Then, there was Albert Einstein whose teacher thought he was a "very poor student. Mentally slow, unsociable and always daydreaming. He is spoiling it for the rest of the class. It would be in the best interests of all if he were removed from school." To top it off, Einstein failed his college entrance examination! Lincoln's case is perhaps the most dramatic example in history of what attitude can accomplish. Here in brief is his bio data: He lost his job in 1832. In the same year was defeated for the legislature. The following year, he failed in business. Elected to the legislature in 1834. His sweetheart died in 1835. Suffered nervous breakdown in 1836. Defeated for speaker of the House in 1838.

In 1843 was defeated for nomination for Congress. Elected to Congress in 1846. Lost renomination for Congress two years later. Rejected for post of land officer in 1849. Defeated for the Senate in 1854. Lost nomination for vice-presidency in 1856. Again defeated for Senate in 1858. Elected President in 1860.

Modern day experts say that to stay motivated one has to succeed 75 per cent of the time. Lincoln, however, succeeded only 25 per cent of the time! It was his attitude — not aptitude — that determined his altitude.

Let us hope that at the "reform" school, attempts will be made to study the "motivational fingerprints" of Selangor civil servants to assess their interests, desires and aspirations. This will make it possible to know what makes these people tick. By listing everything one knows about an individual — from his/her style of dress to identifying parts of the job that are both most and least favoured — significant value patterns begin to emerge indicating what individuals best respond to.

Then, by making some adjustments in their job duties — like adding desired functions and altering or removing those less favoured — our "reform school" graduates may find life behind their desks quite appealing, resulting in a change in attitude.

* The writer, a former NST journalist, is corporate communications director with Prestige Communications. Contact:

NST 6/3/2004

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