Attitude: the little thing that makes a big difference


Many years ago at a conference, I tried the following experiment. I asked the crowd, “What one thing will determine our success more than any other?” The audience answered with words like job, money, education, and time. Finally someone said attitude. What I consider the most important area of our lives had come as a second thought. I believe that our attitude is the primary force that will determine whether we succeed or fail.

History’s greatest achievements have been made by men and women who excelled only slightly over the masses of others in their fields. Many times, the difference was attitude. The former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir underlined this truth in one of her interviews. She said, “All my country has is spirit. We don’t have petroleum dollars. We don’t have mines of great wealth in the ground. We don’t have the support of a worldwide public opinion that looks favorably on us. All Israel has is the spirit of its people. And if the people lose their spirit, even the United States of America cannot save us.”

Certainly aptitude is important to our success in life. Yet success or failure in any undertaking can more often be traced back to mental attitude than mental capacity. I remember when my wife Margaret was a schoolteacher. She would often come home frustrated with the emphasis in modern education on aptitude over attitude. If she’d had her way, the kids would have been tested on their A.Q. (attitude quotient) at least as often as they were tested in their I.Q. (intelligence quotient). Every year, she would talk of students whose I.Q. was high yet their performance was low. And every year, she would have students whose I.Q. wasn’t particularly high, but their performance was.

As a parent, I always hoped for my kids to have excellent minds AND outstanding attitudes. But if I had to choose an “either-or” situation, I would favor their A.Q. without hesitation.

A university president once gave advice to the president of another school: “Always be kind to your A and B students. Some of them will return to your campus as a good professor. And also be kind to your C students. Someday one of them will return and build a $2 million science laboratory.”

There is very little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.

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Categories : Attitude, success


  1. 1
    Hutch says:

    The fact that attitude trumps aptitude is what convinces me that I will succeed. If having greater aptitude than my peers determined my success, I would have quit long ago.

    “The “A” students teach the “B” students to work for the “C” students.”

    Thanks John.

  2. 2

    I was thinking about teachers this morning on the way to work and I think your blog helped me clarify what I was thinking. I may have to write a blog article on it. The short form is this, while I think it is a good thing that schools are looking for legitimate standards to test students by, I think part of the equation is left out. NCLB or No Child Left Behind was about schools being responsible for student success. While I am very much for school accountability, I also believe it is grossly unfair to put the burden of parenting on the school. The attitude of children is the responsibility of the parent. That is the insight you have helped me clarify.

    If we are going to measure the success of the schools by the demonstration of aptitude of its students, then it is just as reasonable to measure the successful job of parenting by the demonstration of attitude of the students.

    Ok, not everybody gets to elect their parents John, but some of us did a better job at it than others. You were very wise in choosing yours.

    I loved meeting your dad at the JMT Training Program last February.

    Michael D Goodman

    • 2.1
      Rsgteach says:

      I appreciate your thoughts, Michael. I have been teaching for 21 years and have seen a big change in the attitudes of both students AND parents. I am a competent teacher, but I have noticed over the past year that it is becoming more and more difficult (and frustrating) to try and turn around many of the preconceived negative attitudes these children live everyday.
      At Parent Night, I have the parents perform a simple but powerful math problem: “If your child is in school 180 days a year, how many days is she/he NOT in school? Which is greater? What conclusion can we reach?”. I am constantly surprised how many parents do not realize that their child is only in school about 1/2 a year. Do you know anyone who can do a thorough job at anything in only 1/2 the time? I don’t! Therefore, we can now see how important it is for teachers AND parents to work together for the betterment of the schools – and attitude is a perfect place to start!

      Thanks again for recognizing our dilemma in the classroom.

      Mary D.

  3. 3

    Thanks for sharing this post. I do believe attitude makes a world of difference in our lives. People with positive attitudes achieve so much more and they are a pleasure to be around. People with negative attitudes will bring you down if you spend too much time with them. Blessings, Deborah H. Bateman-Author

  4. 4

    So true. The right attitude will foster perseverance. Perseverance will allow you to gain any knowledge or skill needed to succeed, even in the face of obstacles or setbacks.

  5. 5
    Vera Archilla says:

    Sucess is 95% attitude!

  6. 6
    Kent says:

    It’s all about attitude. When I interview people or want to work with new partners, the first thing I do is study their attitude. If they have attitude problem, no matter how smart they are, I won’t use them.

  7. 7

    John your information inspires me to be my best so that I can be my best for others!

    Can’t wait for Maxwell Certification Training August 2012!

  8. 8
    Rob Moore says:

    Great post! This was the first thing that I learned about leadership and success and it makes all of the difference! Thanks for sharing!

  9. 9

    In my first book; It’s not about cancer, it’s about you; six reasons to keep living and enjoying your gift of life. Chapter 2; Attitude is everything, the “A” in C.A.N.C.E.R, my book is about what cancer taught me about enjoying my gift of life, and living the right attitude daily makes it happen!

    Attitude is everything!

  10. 10
    Lexez Amevzii says:

    Truly enough, success is directly proportional to attitude.

  11. 11

    […] Follow JohnCMaxwell on Twitter. Or visit John’s Facebook page. Introducing a new daily video program, A Minute with Maxwell. Sign up here. It’s free! Attitude: the little thing that makes a big difference […]

  12. 12
    Kumar Gauraw says:

    Thank you for this awesome post John. I enjoy listening to your Minute With Maxwell everyday and I think Attitude is that little thing that makes not a big difference. In fact, it makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in the world.

    This is a phenomenal post and I take this opportunity to thank you for sharing these nuggets here.

  13. 13

    I’m a huge believer in attitude being the most important factor when it comes to success. I try to always have an optimistic attitude and to approach things with an open mind. “The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.”—What a great quote!! I’m writing it down to share with my students.

  14. 14

    Attitude is the magical ingredient that makes all the difference in how we are able to shape the events in our lives into positive events and actions. With a good attitude there are no failures in life only setbacks or delays. And it’s attitude that powers both positive thinking and personal motivation. So attitude is ultimately one small part of what makes a person successful it is an absolutely critical part as it’s the “glue” that holds all the rest together.

  15. 15
    Noma says:

    Thanks for sharing this powerful message! From personal experience, I can safely conclude that a negative attitude always results in problems after problems, whereas a positive attitude leads to everything working out perfectly, whatever that means to you at that point in your life! I also strongly associate a healthy dose of faith with a positive attitude!

  16. 16

    I agree. Aptitude, Attitude and Values are the three components of potential. Attitude often determines whether you fully utilize your Aptitude.
    Tony Latimer, MCC

  17. 17

    I had to learn this lesson from personal experience. During my time in school and some of my Navy career I went through life with an attitude of no matter how smart I was at any particular subject, everyone else was better than I was. That attitude led to poor grades, poor performance at my apprenticeship school, and poor retention of skills as a meteorologist my first year in. When I finally got tired of living that kind of life and changed my attitude, everything else in life changed along with it for the best. This is a lesson that so many people need to learn and adopt in their daily lives and I thank you for posting this.

  18. 18
    Bemigho says:

    J.C.Maxwell thanks for this. all we need to succeed is attitude and the RIGHT attitude to be specific. we must seek to upgrade our mental attitude before developing mental capacity. attitude is the thin line between success and failure. we must therefore have a healthy attitude towards everything.

  19. 19

    Good sharing.Am going to share the same topic to the pastors tomorrow.

  20. 20
    apple jane s. darlucio says:

    I’ve learned a lot! God bless! i love reading those kind of leadership for me to grow more. i expected a lot of teachings from you. thank you! :)

  21. 21
    Mrs. C says:

    Very nice and uplifting. However, I think if you use the words of someone else they should be given credit for it
    “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.” by W. Clement Stone

    Have a wonderful day. Thanks for all the advice.