What is More Important: Attitude or Skills?

Bruce King

Albert Einstein coined the phrase: “Success is 80% attitude and 20% skills.”

Henry Ford said: “There are two types of people in this world; those who think they can and those who think they cannot. And they are both right.

And Earl Nightingale of Think & Grow Rich fame said: “A great attitude does much more than turn on the lights in our worlds; it seems to magically connect us to all sorts of serendipitous opportunities that were somehow absent before the change.

Similar variations on this theme have been made by many personal development gurus and success coaches with slightly different phraseology.

I totally agree with them, but with the caveat that the more skillful one becomes, the more likely one is to develop an even greater ‘success attitude.’ And to prove the point with a story would be so easy if I were to write about a famous and very successful person. But the following is a true story about someone who, even if I gave you his correct full name, you would never have heard of him. I shall call him by just his first name, which is James.

I was first introduced to James when I was asked to coach twenty-five of the top salespeople working with a large Financial Services organization. These were the top twenty-five of two thousand-plus salespeople, so you can imagine they were very successful already.

Except for James, they were all extremely well dressed, looked fit, and were very articulate. James was almost the complete opposite of that. Nevertheless, based on his sales production, he had earned his place in the top twenty-five.

When I asked the twenty-four how they described in fifteen seconds what they did for their clients; in other words, their ‘elevator pitch,’ they had some very interesting and sophisticated ways of describing themselves.

One example was, ‘I help people minimize the effects of taxation during their lifetimes and ensure that as much of their estate as possible is passed on to their families on their death rather than to the government.’

Another was, ‘I help people to plan their financial affairs so that they are able to retire ten years earlier than they would otherwise be able to do so.’

James said, ‘I sell life insurance, pensions, and savings plans.’ Not a very stimulating and exciting elevator pitch!

I was fascinated by James and wanted to find out how he had earned his place in this elite group. I sat down with him in one of the coffee breaks to find out more. He told me that he had worked as a postman for many years, but when his mother became quite ill, he was unable to care for her properly on his postman’s salary.

He had applied for several other jobs without success and then he heard that very good incomes could be made in financial services and that, because it was commission only based, they were not too fussy who they took on. He told me that after the interview when he was offered a position and found out what he could earn if he was successful, he became absolutely committed and determined to succeed in his new career.

James sold his car and everything else he thought could do without and raised enough money to be able to keep himself and his mother for several months whilst he was learning his new trade.

James tried many of the sophisticated approaches used by the top sellers in his company but was not comfortable with them and failed dismally. Then he decided to try a totally different approach, one that he invented completely by himself. This approach quickly earned him the nickname ‘Tower Block James. This is what he did.

Every day, James took a bus or train to the nearest Apartment Tower Block.  He would take the lift to the top floor and then walk down and ring the bell on every front door. If it were answered, he would say, ‘Good afternoon, Sir (or Madam). My name is James represent the (XYZ) Company. I sell life insurance, pensions and investment plans. I am here today introducing myself and making appointments for next Wednesday with people who would like to buy one or other of those. Would you like to make an appointment with me too?’

I cringed at this approach, but the fact is that by the time James had reached the ground floor, he had always made at least four appointments and often many more, and when he went back, he sold to every single one of them. They had after all, already told him they wanted to buy from him.

That was his sole method of generating a significant level of new business. He never even asked for referrals and James had been doing that for seven years.

That is what I consider one of the most extraordinary examples of success being 80 percent attitude and 20 percent skill.

About the author

Bruce King is recognized internationally as a leading sales, marketing, and personal growth strategist. He has addressed audiences and coached companies’ executive personnel in twenty-three countries.​ In recent years he has focused on helping SMEs to build more successful businesses.

Bruce has authored five international best-selling books on sales, marketing and personal growth strategies., all published by mainstream publishers, and has produced several highly effective online coaching programs.