Attitude vs. Aptitude

Which is more important to you – having people with the right attitude or people with the right aptitude?

Most people say both. But when we look to retain and attract people we do so on the basis of  the skills they have – their aptitude. But when we fire people we do so, in about 90% of all cases, for their attitude.  Is it me or is there a discrepancy here?

So what are the differences between aptitudes and attitudes?

  • Aptitudes are our potential to learn skills which we develop and hone through time. What works, you continue using. What does not, you strive to change. However, aptitudes alone cannot take you all the way through the path to success.
  • Attitudes determine what and how much you can do. It is like an engine – it can either slow you down or accelerate you forward.

The fundamental difference here, for managers and leaders, is that you can train people for weaknesses in aptitude – but you cannot train people out of an attitude weakness.  Attitude is internal to the individual, you cannot motivate a person to change themselves – they have to motivate themselves to change.

As leaders we have to deal with people who exhibit different aptitudes and attitudes, these are shown in the Aptitude-Attitude matrix below. This  tool highlights what you need to do with different people depending on where they sit in the matrix and is useful when assessing your team or direct reports.

Attitude-Aptitude Matrix

If attitude is internal to an individual, how can you can motivate them  to change themselves.  There are three ways you ca influence them:

  1. Using carrots and sticks – this only creates compliance, as soon as the pressure to conform is reduced the individual will revert to their original attitudes and behaviours;
  2. Peer pressure – creating the necessary peer pressure to get the individual to change their attitude to that which is wanted; this is dependent, however, on the peer pressure being aligned with that of the business;
  3. Alignment with Self-Interests – by aligning the interests of the individual with those of the business, the individual willingly changes their attitudes and behavior to those required by the organization.  This is the only sustainable way of engaging people and getting them to change their attitude and behaviors.

So What to Do?

You can only effectively influence people’s aptitude, not their attitude.  As managers and leaders we can train people to help them improve; we can manage performance, but we cannot, nor should we, manage behavior.

To help people improve their skills requires understanding their current skills and capabilities, what is needed for them to perform well, the current gap between the two and what the priorities are.

To improve people’s attitudes needs the individual to change.  We can help provide a suitably motivating environment to encourage people to change, but we cannot make them change.


Help people develop their skills, help them to change themselves.  But do not allow those with the wrong attitudes stay where they are, especially if they refuse to change.  In these cases you have three options – Train, Transfer or Terminate.

  • Train them in how they can change themselves;
  • Transfer them to another position where their attitudes and behavior may be a better fit; or
  • Terminate them – you are probably doing them a kindness, as well as yourself, by taking them out of a position where they are unhappy and giving them the opportunity to find somewhere else that suits them better.

Be clear on what attitudes and aptitudes you want in your business, and what you want your employees to exemplify in what they do and how they do it.  Mark up where you see your staff on the matrix and identify if they need to improve their attitude or their aptitude, the priorities, and focus on them.  Remember, it is your employees’ attitudes that are a predictor of their success – not their aptitude – and their success is a predictor of yours.

To find out more and discuss this and other ways to improve leadership effectiveness and organizational performance further contact Andrew Cooke (MGSCC), call Andrew Cooke on +61 (0)401 842 673 or

You can also find further insights and a wealth of material on business and leadership on Andrew’s other blog – Growth & Profit Solution Blog. There are also a large number of resources at his Blue Sky GPS Website, and these can be found Blue Sky GPS Resources.

About Andrew Cooke & Blue Sky GPS (Growth & Profit Solutions)



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