Home > Articles > The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 6: Attitude

The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 6: Attitude

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Cisco Press.
  • Date: Jan 18, 2008.

The Role of Attitude

Barring the two challenges of unrealistic expectations and skill deficits, attitude becomes of primary importance in building your career. What attitudes do you need to develop? The sections that follow discuss these and provide some insight on how you can put them to use in both career advancement and in the job search.

What You Think of Your Employer

Your perspective toward your employer and your ability to understand his perspective goes a long way toward creating a work environment that is enjoyable and productive. It amazes me how willing people are to work for someone they disdain. They act as though a job is both a right and a prison. And their employer becomes an object of a bitter attitude. This ultimately serves no one.

I ask—no, I admonish—you to take a good, hard look at your attitude toward your employer. In many cases, I've found that employees have two damaging perspectives when it comes to their employer.

The "Us Versus Them" Mentality

This is a killer. Few things are as damaging as a perspective that places you and management or business ownership on different teams.

If you find that your peers spend considerable time bad-mouthing or complaining about management, I would caution you to select a better peer group. That might sound harsh, but if you have peers who cultivate an "us versus them" mentality in speech and action, you are limiting your career advancement potential.

First, you will create a barrier between good management and yourself. You will not seek management's company and certainly will not attempt to emulate management. Why? Management is the enemy.

Second, you will be known for your membership in that negative peer group. You will emulate the group's attitude. It ultimately kills the desire to rise into management. A negative peer group exerts a tremendous amount of pressure, and the effects can be disastrous to a career.

Management Got There by Luck or Schmoozing, Alone

The general assumption here is that managers don't have the skills for their job. It might be true that you are in a situation in which that is the case. But I caution you. In most cases, managers have performed to achieve the success they have. Most managers have produced consistently to be recognized for their achievements and have attained success through hard work.

Often, the perspective is created by misunderstanding your employer's or manager's role. Understand that you are meant to provide skills that augment the company, not necessarily duplicate those that are already in existence.

Often, an employee possesses some skill that is unique in the company. The danger is that having that unique skill can foster an attitude of superiority. This is extremely common with technologists. They view their specific talent as "the talent" that the company needs.

This perspective creates a general disdain for those who do not have this talent. Often, this attitude becomes directed toward a boss or management.

This is a career killer. You must remember that no matter how unique, every talent is replaceable. Ultimately, if the trouble that you bring to a company exceeds your value, you will be replaced.

To gain the most from your employment in the areas of simple enjoyment and opportunity, you must view it as an agreement between you and your employer. Each of you brings something of value to the agreement.

Your employer brings work and a steady paycheck. He assumes risk in running and financing a business. He needs to have specific tasks performed, and these tasks require specific skills.

You bring those skills or the ability to master those skills. You bring a desire to excel at what you do. You bring to your employer the solutions to the company's business challenges.

To understand the nature of this agreement, you must be able to see the employer's perspective of the relationship. You must also be able to see where you fit in the organization and the value that you really bring. Having this understanding can help you better assess the opportunities that exist and determine whether the agreement is a good one for both you and the employer.

Your Coworkers

The attitude that you carry into your job is largely impacted by what you think about your coworkers. If you feel that you are part of a team working to achieve a common success, you will arrive at work motivated to achieve. You will feel comfortable with the knowledge that your "back is covered" as you enter the fray of technical work.

If, on the other hand, you feel that your peers do not care about you or the tasks at hand, you will lack motivation.

I would like to tell you that I am going to provide methods to make your coworkers like you or that I can give them a desire to achieve. Unfortunately, those don't apply here. In fact, I cannot impact your coworkers one iota, and you can't either. What it ultimately comes down to is you and your attitude toward your coworkers.

This is all you can control. You are the one reading this book and showing an interest in your success. This already separates you from others in one regard. A desire to succeed requires a commitment to personal growth. This book is a step in that direction.

Although you and I cannot impact your coworkers directly, I guarantee that your attitude toward your work, your peers, and the company and its management can.

Don't be nave, keep your great attitude, and be perceptive as to what is going on. Remember: You are working on correcting your attitude and trying to make a positive impact through that. You can't turn onions into apples, but you can recognize that you have onions and grill them to put on your steak.

Humble Arrogance: The Attitude of Personal Value

All of us, without exception, have some type of skill we bring to the table. Often, the job seeker and employer look only at the hard skills. This is particularly true in IT; however, an assessment and understanding of how you can benefit your employer is vital to feeding your attitude.

The attitude of personal value is an internal realization of the awareness that you bring something to the table. Perhaps in the early part of your career, it is the willingness to learn, to put in the time and effort to develop new talents and refine existing ones. Later, it might be the actual hard skills you bring to the table. Ultimately, it will become your ability to lead others and transfer both conceptual and hard knowledge to your staff.

If you do not believe that you have something to offer, some value that you bring your prospective employer, your attitude will most certainly suffer. Inevitably, you will view the time and effort you trade your employer for pay as a type of stealing. Although you might not verbalize it in this fashion, you will carry this attitude, and it will place you in a vulnerable position.

You will live in a type of fear that your lack of value will be discovered. This will remove any ability that you have to bargain for higher pay and opportunity. It will kill your incentive.

You must find which skills you bring to the table and cultivate and promote them. You must also work to develop skills that will serve you well as your career progresses.

This humble arrogance is really misstated, but I want the juxtaposition of the phrase to stand out in your mind. Having a strong understanding of your worth, but without the attitude that comes from overstating its value, can help you carry yourself with confidence in any position. I am not looking to create techno prima donnas who believe they stand above their peers in some type of career aristocracy; however, I do want you to believe that you have skills and ideas that bring value. I want you to believe that you can master those skills you currently do not possess. And I want you to feel confident in your ability to develop any talents that are necessary to bring value to your job. In doing so, you forward your own career.


The attitude of ownership is another vital component to your career growth. You must take responsibility for the tasks assigned to you and more. Having managed a number of people, one of the most damaging attitudes I've seen is the idea that a job description defines clear borders of responsibility.

I've listened with disbelief when an employee responds, "That's not my job" when assigned with a task. In many cases, the employee does not express this sentiment to management but instead complains to coworkers and peers. It is something I've never understood. I hope that this phrase will never enter your mind.

Your ability to tackle varied and multiple tasks is the proving ground for your talent and a wonderful opportunity for growth. The idea that your job description must include any tasks assigned is foreign to those who understand dynamic career growth. Accelerated career advancement is about separating yourself from those who do "enough" by expanding both your production and your effectiveness. You cannot afford to wait until you are promoted to begin taking on the tasks of your next position. Start doing them now.

In addition, the willingness to roll up your sleeves and get dirty shows your willingness to see projects through and help out wherever possible. Management will appreciate this. As your career advances, you will, too. As a business owner, I used to have employees who would "catch" me cleaning the sink at the office or running trash to the bin. Occasionally, they commented that I shouldn't be doing that.

However, if all my employees were busy on project work and I had a moment, the task was there and had to be done. I don't consider this a martyr type of attitude, just a pragmatic reality. You should try to carry the same "get it done" approach.

While at Blue Cross of California, much of my career advancement rested with the fact that I sought out projects that exceeded both my current skill set and my responsibilities. I sought out a mentor who was either directly involved in the project or elsewhere in the company who could provide me the input, training, and direction to succeed in the new area.

There is a difference between having an attitude of ownership and being in a situation where unrealistic expectations and unachievable goals are set for you. I am not suggesting that you take on every task in your department. There are limits to your time and your talent.

If you find that your company is consistently assigning you projects and tasks that fall outside of your expertise and negatively impact your current workload, you must take action. For better or for worse, there are only two reasonable responses to this situation:

  • Address it directly with management— Explain the situation and assess your manager's response. Either he will agree and alter the expectations, or he will not. If your manager does not agree or you see no change in your workload or his expectations, I would start looking for a job elsewhere.
  • Start looking for a new job— Remaining at a job where management is unrealistic and the chances of your success and internal promotion are greatly inhibited is a recipe for failure. Most organizations and most managers are interested in the success of their employees. Seek out companies and management with a mindset that is more conducive to your growth, goals, and promotion.

The Myth of the Self-Made Man

Many of our attitude problems, particularly in our peer or management relationships, are fostered by the myth of the self-made man. When we achieve some type of success, it is our human nature to be willing to take full credit. And yet, if we are honest, we will admit that we were helped along to some degree.

No one operates, learns, or achieves on an island. It might be that you had a mentor, a person who has provided some direction in your life and career. Or perhaps your mentor was found in books or articles. Perhaps your solid upbringing has provided you with an attitude that allows you to attempt and fail enough times to attempt again and then succeed. Whatever it is, if you search hard enough, you will find that you are not self-made. Someone—typically many such someones—along the way provided input that helped prepare you.

This understanding can assist you in maintaining a proper perspective when you are faced with peers who are envious of your success or, worse yet, when you feel that envy as you watch others succeed. Knowing that you received assistance to get ahead and that your peers also received assistance helps keep you from becoming arrogant or becoming intimidated. Both of those attitudes are damaging to your career.

6. Attitude Checks | Next Section Previous Section

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