Attitude is everything

  • Published
  • By Maj. Joseph Schaefer
  • 39th Comptroller Squadron commander
This week I have followed a sport I never really paid attention to in the past. I sat and watched tennis during the U.S. Open not because of the sport itself, but because of the story unfolding on the screen. Melanie Oudin, ranked number 70 in the world, was beating opponents she was not supposed to beat. The competitors were ranked much higher and they played a much more aggressive style of tennis. All of the "expert" commentators had her beaten in each match by opponents with greater ability and motivation to win. I had to ask, if she was supposed to lose then how was she winning? 

It was famed football coach Lou Holtz who said "Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." Ms. Oudin, has the ability to play tennis well or she would not have been in the U.S. Open. However, you could say her opponents had greater ability; after all, they were ranked higher than her at 29, four and 13. When asked what drove her to keep coming from behind she stated she believed she could play at this level and simply wanted to play the best tennis she could. She, like most other athletes, thrives off of the competition. 

Again, you could argue her competitors are motivated by similar needs. Many of the competitors have sponsors they need to please as well which should cause additional motivation to succeed. If you're a believer in what Lou Holtz had to say, then this leaves attitude. Ms. Oudin was guided to a place in the U.S. Open by her coach and family afer many years of hard work. They told her again and again that she belonged at the U.S. Open and could play on this level. Their positive attitudes led her to have a positive attitude toward her matches and made her believe she could win. This positive attitude determined how well she played, and if you look at the statistics, her opponent's attitudes led them to error after error when their style of brash play didn't win them points quickly. 

I tell you this tennis story today to remind everyone about the importance of attitude in our day-to-day lives. Each of us has the abilities to carry out our responsibilities, or our superiors would not give us the roles and responsibilities we have in the Air Force. We are motivated to be in the Air Force for our own personal reasons, and to stay in the Air Force we have to carry out the daily tasks assigned to each of us. 

It is the intangible of attitude which drives our organizations to do well. Have you ever walked into a shop and while the person helping you has the ability to do the job and may be motivated to help you, you still walk out feeling frustrated or upset about the transaction that just took place simply because the person helping you didn't have a good attitude? I would argue this attitude problem is a reflection of leadership.
If you are a leader in our Air Force, your attitude will shape the attitudes of your subordinates and therefore the outcomes of the organization. This is drummed into each of us at every level of professional military education and, if you pay attention, is evident in the attitudes of every front-line Airman whether they are checking IDs at the gate, turning a wrench on an aircraft, or talking to a customer from behind a counter. The more your people can see you with the appropriate attitude the more you will see this same attitude in your people. 

While Ms. Oudin eventually lost in the quarterfinals, her positive attitude toward the game won over the tennis audience around the world and has opened many doors for her future. The same can be said for multiple organizations throughout our Air Force which have leaders with the appropriate attitude. While we are not watched on the television when we carry out our jobs, we are periodically inspected. When those inspectors come, the first thing they will notice is the attitude of each one of us. Putting the right attitude forward goes along way with inspectors, and while it will not guarantee success, you still need to accomplish the task in compliance; it will point your organization towards success.