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Mission Log – Why Attitude Trumps Skill

A few months ago, I attended a Harvard Business Club networking group organised by BPI Foundation.

I was talking to an impact investor about the work I do coaching underserved state university students . I was explaining how most of my work was focused on developing proper mindsets and habits versus focusing on skills.

And somehow we got to the conversation of hiring. He told me that he would rather hire someone who had a good attitude versus someone who was really skilled but didn’t have the right mindset. He actually said that’s why he doesn’t like hiring from the top universities. Many of them have attitudes of entitlement and “I know how to do this – leave me alone”.

hbsdcal“That awkward moment when your name tag uses your real name and not the name that you call yourself”

Over the past few months, I’ve been exploring this conversation with entrepreneurs with successful exits, human resource professionals and changemakers. The consensus seems clear: Attitude trumps skill. But why?

“I don’t need all the fucking features if I can’t even reach the bottle opener” (Photo from wikipedia)

Based on my conversations, I think it can be summed down to three things:

1. Skills are easy to learn. Mindsets, attitudes and habits take time.

2. If people have an unwilling and resistant attitude, trying to train new skills will be useless.

3. A bad attitude is infectious (See: Distinguishing the Devil and the Devil’s Advocate).

Would you hire attitude over skills? Let me know in the comments.



Mission Log is a series of reflections and insights related to my personal journey as an entrepreneur and changemaker.

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3 thoughts on “Mission Log – Why Attitude Trumps Skill

  1. Interesting read. When I first started working as a headhunter, I was guilty of being someone who looked out more for skills rather than attitude. After working for more than a year, though, that perspective has started to change.

    When I interviewed certain candidates in my work, I noticed that those who stayed longer in their jobs (ex. 5-10 years) were not those who were more advanced in skills, but rather those who chose to stick it out no matter what happened. And though the journey wasn’t easy for them, they were rewarded later on for their perseverance with bigger promotions and higher compensation packages.

    Plus, by choosing to stick it out for a long time in their current employers, these candidates made themselves more marketable to other companies who were looking for people with their type of expertise. These companies had the belief that, the longer the person stayed at a certain employer, the more trustworthy he/she was deemed to be.

    Just some food for thought. Hahaha.

  2. As an Project Manager I can attest to the “attitude trumps skill” statement. I currently manager teams and those who are under my “performance improvement plan” are mostly the highly skilled ones. Reason being is that they are way too confident with their skills that they think they are indispensable. It came to a point where, after exhausting all humanitarian and compassionate means of people management, I fired one because of values.

    A person’s skill may move mountains but if s/he can’t follow company rules such as “badge in on time on your DECLARED shift,” then the staff has a problem. If there are people I love to work with, those are people who can be trusted unconditionally. True enough, average-skilled ones are those who come in on time, submit EOB reports timely, and hits their metrics.

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