The Difference Maker: Making Your Attitude Your Greatest Asset

The Difference Maker: Making Your Attitude Your Greatest Asset

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by John C. Maxwell

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What can make the difference in your life today? How can two people with the same skills and abilities, in the same situation, end up with two totally different outcomes? Leadership expert John C. Maxwell says the difference maker is attitude. For those who have ever wondered what may be separating them from achieving the kind of personal and professional success


What can make the difference in your life today? How can two people with the same skills and abilities, in the same situation, end up with two totally different outcomes? Leadership expert John C. Maxwell says the difference maker is attitude. For those who have ever wondered what may be separating them from achieving the kind of personal and professional success they’ve always dreamt of, Dr. Maxwell has some words of insight: “Your attitude colors every aspect of your life. It is like the mind’s paintbrush.”

In The Difference Maker, Maxwell shatters common myths about attitude—what it can do for you and what it can’t. Showing you how to overcome the five biggest attitude obstacles, Dr. Maxwell teaches the skills you need to make attitude your biggest asset. Most importantly, you’ll learn not only how to develop an attitude that will have a tremendous impact on career, family, and daily living, but also how to maintain that attitude for the rest of your life.

Editorial Reviews

The author of 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership returns with an equally irrefutable strategy for discovering and unleashing your most potent asset: your attitude. Locating the tiger in your tank.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Not All You've Heard
The axiom "attitude is everything" has been stated by so many motivational speakers and writers over the years that many of us simply accept it as fact. If so many people believe it, it must be true, right?

Wrong, says leadership expert John Maxwell in The Difference Maker. He maintains that while attitude is important, there are certain things it cannot achieve. It cannot change people into something they're not. Attitude cannot replace competence, experience or personal growth and it cannot change the facts. Maxwell gives an example of two people applying for the same job. One has skills, talent and 10 years experience, but a so-so attitude. The other has a super attitude, but no experience. Who gets the job? "Probably the one with the greater skills and experience," writes Maxwell. "Why? Because a great attitude will not make up the gap."

Attitude as an Asset
Despite the "cannots," Maxwell writes, attitude is a primary component in determining our success. While it can't alter what exists, it can influence our future via how we choose to deal with things we encounter in everyday life. "The happiest people," he notes, "don't necessarily have the best of everything; they make the best of everything." Essentially, if we expect bad things, he says, we get them. Conversely, we often get good things by expecting them.

By applying attitude correctly, we can make it one of our most powerful assets. To this end, Maxwell stresses, it's something we control; it's a matter of choice, not circumstances, how we deal with a particular situation. To do so, we need to first evaluate our current attitude, create the desire to change it, then rearrange our thoughts to do so.

This is largely done by making an effort to allow our thinking to run in positive channels. Maxwell believes negative thoughts lead to negative beliefs, which in turn lead to wrong decisions and actions, creating a pattern of bad habits. Developing the proper attitude can reverse this vicious cycle. He also maintains that attitude adjustment isn't a one-time event; it's something we have to manage daily.

Point by Point
To change our attitude, Maxwell claims, we have to overcome what he calls the "Big Five" major attitude obstacles. "When you can learn to deal with them in a positive way," he says, "you can face anything else life may have in store for you."

According to Maxwell, the first hurdle is discouragement. If not handled correctly, discouragement can make someone give up instead of facing the situation. This involves not becoming fixated or paralyzed, but viewing things from different perspectives and taking the best road possible for your personal well-being. The mix includes introspection, having the right expectations and making the right decisions.

The second hurdle is change, something that most people resist. The key here, Maxwell allows, is to objectively examine why we're opposed to the change. Once that's established, we need to determine how to make the change successful and positive, keeping in mind that all change has a price to which we must be willing to commit.

Problems are the third obstacle. "Our perspective on problems, not the problem itself, usually determines our success or failure," writes Maxwell. To this end, the difference between problem-spotting and problem-solving can be crucial. Tackling a problem head-on and working out the best way of dealing with it can often turn into an opportunity for personal or professional advancement.

The fourth obstacle is fear. Here, Maxwell invokes Franklin D. Roosevelt's words, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," as far more than rhetoric. Maxwell contends that if permitted to run rampant, fear can generate inaction, weakness and more fear, which can be destructive. Rather than waste energy by being afraid, we need to realize the limitations fear places on us. It's only by properly handling what we're afraid of, he says, that we can overcome fear and achieve our full potential.

Last, Maxwell discusses failure. The premise is simple: If we fail or make a mistake, we need to learn from it and go on. Otherwise, we run the risk of letting it defeat us. By seeing failure as a teacher rather than a limit, we remain capable of taking risks - something necessary for success.

Why We Like This Book
While some might argue that what Maxwell offers is simply common sense, the book goes far beyond. Written in a light, almost chatty style that uses examples, anecdotes and quotes from Abraham Lincoln to Yogi Berra, it provides many points of entry and shows how anyone, if determined, can indeed make his or her attitude make a difference. Copyright © 2007 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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THE Difference MAKER

Making Your Attitude Your Greatest Asset
By John C. Maxwell

Nelson Business

Copyright © 2007 John C. Maxwell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7852-6098-1

Chapter One

Where Did You Get Your Attitude?

Have you ever heard someone say, "Attitude is everything"? It seems to be a favorite line of some motivational speakers. According to them, a great attitude is all you need to be successful. Unfortunately, it's simply not true.

I do a lot of professional speaking. Each year I communicate at live events to 250,000 people. And I do believe in motivating others. However, I don't think of myself as a motivational speaker. I call myself a motivational teacher. That may seem like a technicality, but here's the difference: A motivational speaker makes you feel good, but the next day you're not sure why. A motivational teacher also makes you feel good, but the next day you possess something that will actually help you.

The promise that attitude is everything is hollow. In fact, if you believe that attitude is everything, it may actually hurt you more than help you. If attitude were everything, then the only thing that would separate me from a successful singing career would be the belief that I can do it. But trust me, there is another factor that stands in my way: talent. If you've watched the reality show American Idol, then you know what I mean. I am amazed at the number of terrible auditioners who respond to blunt criticism from the judges by saying things like, "I know I can sing. That's just your opinion." Truthfully, no attitude is strong enough to compensate for lack of skill.

So does a good attitude make any difference? Absolutely. Attitude is the difference maker! Attitude isn't everything, but it is one thing that can make a difference in your life. Businessman, philanthropist, and author W. Clement Stone stated, "There is little difference in people, but the little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative."

The goal of this book is not to snow you by saying that attitude is everything, but to show you that your attitude is the difference maker in your life. I desire to do that by helping you understand where your attitude comes from, what it can and can't do for you, and how you can make it an asset. I also want to give you insight into how to deal with the Big Five Attitude Obstacles everybody faces: discouragement, change, problems, fear, and failure. If you're like most people, you have to deal with at least one of those issues every single day! Let's take this journey together by first looking at some basics about attitude.


What is an attitude, anyway? When you hear the word, what do you think about? I think of attitude as an inward feeling expressed by outward behavior. People always project on the outside what they feel on the inside. Some people try to mask their attitude, and they can fool others for a while. But that cover-up doesn't last long. Attitude always wiggles its way out.

My father loves to tell the story of a four-year-old boy who was finally put into time-out after battling his mother.

"Sit in that chair until the timer goes off," the mother said in frustration. The boy sat down, fearing greater punishment, but said, "Okay, Mommy. I'm sitting on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside."

Your attitude colors every aspect of your life. It is like the mind's paintbrush. It can paint everything in bright, vibrant colors-creating a masterpiece. Or it can make everything dark and dreary. Attitude is so pervasive and important that I've come to think of it like this:

It is the vanguard of your true self.

Its root is inward but its fruit is outward.

It is your best friend or worst enemy.

It is more honest and consistent about you than your words.

It is your outward look based on your past experiences.

It is what draws people to you or repels them.

It is never content until it is expressed.

It is the librarian of your past.

It is the speaker of your present.

It is the prophet of your future.

There is not a single part of your current life that is not affected by your attitude. And your future will definitely be influenced by the attitude you carry with you from today forward.

Your attitude colors every aspect of your life. It is like the mind's paintbrush.


If your attitude is so important, then you may be asking yourself, Where did I get it? Am I stuck with it my whole life-for better or worse? First, let's look at the question of where your attitude comes from.

1. Personality-Who You Are

Two men were out fishing. When the fish stopped biting, they started to talk. One man praised his wife and extolled her many virtues, summing it up by saying, "You know, if all men were like me, they would all want to be married to my wife."

"And if they were like me," the other replied, "none of them would want to be!"

Everybody's different. Each person is born a unique individual. We're all as different as our fingerprints. That's true even of siblings born of the same parents and brought up in the same household. Even twins who are genetically identical have distinct personalities.

Your personality type-your natural "wiring"-impacts your attitude. That's not to say that you're trapped by your personality, because you're not. But your attitude is certainly impacted by it.

2. Environment-What's Around You

The environment you were exposed to growing up definitely has an impact on your attitude. Did your parents go through a divorce? That may cause you to have a mistrustful attitude toward members of the opposite sex. Did someone close to you die? That may prompt you to have an attitude of emotional distancing from others. Did you grow up in a poor neighborhood? That may prompt you to have a tenacious attitude toward achievement. In contrast, it could make you want to give up more easily.

It may be hard to predict exactly what will happen to a person's attitude based on his or her early environment, but you can be certain that it made an impact of some kind. My wife and I adopted both of our children, and based on that experience, we believe that genetics is the strongest early predictor of attitude. But we also know for a fact that environment makes a difference.

3. The Expression Of Others-What You Feel

Most people can remember the harsh words of a parent or teacher even years or decades after the fact. Some people carry the scars of such experiences their entire lives. In my book Winning with People, the Pain Principle states, "Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by them." Many times the hurts that cause people to overreact to others come as the result of negative words from others.

Likewise, positive words can have an impact on a person's attitude. Can you remember the positive words of a favorite teacher or other significant adult? A few words can change the way a person thinks of himself and can change the course of his life. Charlie Wetzel, my writer, remembers the words of his sister, Barbara Rensink, when he was eighteen. He had little direction in his life back then, and she told him that she thought he had a talent for cooking and how flavors go together. He had never considered that before. It sent him on a ten-year quest learning everything he could about food, cooking, and the restaurant business. And it led to his first career as a professional restaurant chef.

4. Self-Image-How You See Yourself

How you see yourself has a tremendous impact on your attitude. Poor self-image and poor attitudes often walk hand in hand. It's hard to see anything in the world as positive if you see yourself as negative.

Dwayne Dyer advises, "Examine the labels you apply to yourself. Every label is a boundary or limit you will not let yourself cross." If you are having trouble getting where you want to go, the problem may be inside you. If you don't change your inward feelings about yourself, you will be unable to change your outward actions toward others.

5. Exposure to Growth Opportunities-What You Experience

Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire likened life to a game of cards. Players must accept the cards dealt to them. However, once they have those cards in hand, they alone choose how they will play them. They decide what risks and actions to take.

The growth opportunities people experience are not all equal. When I was growing up, my parents constantly exposed me to new experiences that would shape me. They sent me to Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and other courses while I was in junior high and high school. My father occasionally took me out of school for a week so that I could travel with him as he performed his duties as a leader of our religious denomination. He took me to hear great evangelists and missionaries speak. My parents even paid me to read books that would shape my thinking. They did everything they could to cultivate an attitude open to personal growth. As an adult I have continued to embrace that attitude and to try to pass it along to my children and grandchildren.

Not everyone is as fortunate as I was. If you had an upbringing similar to mine, thank your parents. However, if you were rarely exposed to growth experiences or taken outside of your comfort zone, then you may have to work harder to cultivate a positive attitude toward positive personal growth.

6. Association with Peers-Who You Are With

All the time you hear about young people in trouble who are said to have been nice kids who ended up hanging with the wrong crowd. It's a fact that you start becoming like the people you spend a lot of time with. If a nice kid spends all of his time with people of low moral character, it's only a matter of time before he begins to display low moral character. Likewise, if someone with a good attitude spends all her time with individuals who display negative attitudes, guess what will happen to her? She'll begin to develop a negative attitude. She may think she can change them, but if she's outnumbered and gets no relief from their negativity, they are the ones who will be doing the influencing, not her.

7. Beliefs-What You Think

Many of the factors I've mentioned that have come together to shape your attitude were set in motion in your past. But do you know what forms and sustains your attitude most today? Your thoughts. As author and successful businessman Bob Conklin indicated in the following piece, thoughts make a huge impact on you:

I can make you rise or fall. I can work for you or against you. I can make you a success or a failure.

I control the way that you feel and the way that you act.

I can make you laugh ... work ... love. I can make your heart sing with joy ... excitement ... elation.

Or I can make you wretched ... dejected ... morbid.

I can make you sick ... listless.

I can be as a shackle ... heavy ... attached ... burdensome.

Or I can be as the prism's hue ... dancing ... bright ... fleeting ... lost forever unless captured by pen or purpose.

I can be nurtured and grown to be great and beautiful ... seen by the eyes of others through action in you.

I can never be removed ... only replaced.


Why not know me better?

Every thought you have shapes your life. What you think about your neighbor is your attitude toward him. The way you think about your job is your attitude toward work. Your thoughts concerning your spouse, the people on the highway during rush hour, and the government create your attitude toward each of those subjects.

The sum of all your thoughts comprises your overall attitude.

8. Choices-What You Do

Poet, critic, and dictionary writer Samuel Johnson observed, "He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he purposes to remove." Most people want to change the world to improve their lives, but the world they need to change first is the one inside themselves. That is a choice-one that some are not willing to make.

In a Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz, Lucy says to her little brother Linus, "Boy, do I feel crabby."

"Maybe I can help you," Linus responds, always willing to be of assistance. "Why don't you just take my place here in front of the TV while I go and fix you a nice snack? Sometimes we all need a little pampering to help us feel better."

Linus returns with a sandwich, chocolate chip cookies, and a glass of milk.

"Now," he asks, "is there anything else I can get you? Is there anything I haven't thought of?"

Lucy takes the tray, saying, "Yes, there's one thing you haven't thought of." And then she screams, "I don't wanna feel better!"

Early in life, you don't have many choices. You don't choose where and when you are born. You don't choose your parents. You don't choose your race, your personality type, or your genetic makeup. You don't choose your health. Everything you are and nearly everything you do is not up to you. You must live with the conditions you find yourself in. As Voltaire would say, you start with the cards you're dealt.

But the longer you live, the more your life is shaped by your choices. You decide what you will eat. (This is one of the most common ways small children begin to assert their independence.) You decide what toys to play with. You decide whether you will do your homework or watch TV. You choose which friends to spend time with. You choose whether to finish high school, whether you will go to college, who you will marry, what you will do for a living. The longer you live, the more choices you make-and the more responsible you are for how your life is turning out.

Represented visually, it looks like this:

Obviously this graphic does not accurately represent every person's life. But in general, the longer we live, the less conditions dictate how we think and act, and the more our choices determine how we live. And one of those choices is our attitude.

I don't know what kind of circumstances you've had to face in your life. You may have had a really tough time. You may have faced extreme hardship or suffered terrible tragedies. However, your attitude is still your choice.

Perhaps the most remarkable story I've read in the face of horrible circumstances and personal tragedy is that of Viktor Frankl. Born in 1905, Frankl grew up in Vienna and showed an early interest in psychiatry. As a teenager, he corresponded with Sigmund Freud, and one paper he sent Freud so impressed him that the older man sent it to a professional journal, where it was later published.

Frankl became a successful medical doctor in Vienna at age twenty-five, but in 1942, four years after the Nazi invasion of Austria, he was rounded up along with other Austrian Jews and put in a concentration camp. While there, he experienced unspeakable horrors, and he lost his entire family: his pregnant wife, his parents, and his brother.

During the rest of World War II, Frankl was trapped in concentration camps, including the notoriously brutal Auschwitz. Most of his fellow prisoners either were killed or gave up. Not Frankl. He not only maintained hope, but he helped others to find it. The key, he believed, was to find and hold on to meaning. Years later Frankl told Holcomb B. Noble in the New York Times that "the last of the human freedoms [is] to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Miraculously, Frankl survived his time in the concentration camps. And after the war, he was determined to use his experience to help others. He returned to school and earned a PhD. He developed Logotherapy, often called the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy." It is based on a person's will to find meaning and it is expressed, in part, by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Until he was eighty-five years old, Frankl taught in Vienna as a professor of neurology and psychiatry. He lectured at 209 universities on five continents. He received twenty-nine honorary doctorates and had more than 150 books published about him and his work in fifteen different languages. During the good years and the bad, his attitude was positive.

"Each man is questioned by life," Frankl once said, "and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."

To change your life, you must make a choice to take responsibility for your attitude, and to do everything you can to make it work for you. Your attitude truly can become a difference maker. It's up to you.


Excerpted from THE Difference MAKER by John C. Maxwell Copyright © 2007 by John C. Maxwell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John C. Maxwell, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach and speaker, was identified as the #1 leader in business by the AMA and the world’s most influential leadership expert by Inc. in 2014.His organizations—The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, and EQUIP—have trained over 6 million leaders in every nation. Visit for more information.



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Difference Maker 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Gymbeaux More than 1 year ago
Hard to fault any John Maxwell book and The Difference Maker is no different in that regard. The "difference maker" is your attitude. Maxwell developes the importance of attitude in achieving what you want in life and how most people ignore the importance of working on your attitude every day. Maxwell identifies the five obstacles to having a good attitude and what you can do to create a plan of action to work on improving your attitude even in the face of personal adversities. This book is a definite keeper worthy of reading more than once and definitely worthy of giving as a gift.
Mouse1 More than 1 year ago
This book really helps you change the way you think in such a positive way along with doing a little bit of homework. I really recommend this book to anyone that needs some kind of change in their lives or just refresh who they are.
Craig_Mattice More than 1 year ago
A very enlightening, insightful, and motivating book. John brings forth his knowledge and experiences in life in an indepth, authoritative manner. He actually answers the question, "Why do two people with the exact same background, experience, skills and abilities, given the same situation in life, one fails and the other is successful?" I've never had this question answered to my personal satisfaction until reading "The Difference Maker," Making Your Attitude Your Greatest Asset. This book is 178 pages encompassed in 10 well written and organized chapters with excellent continuity of thought. I found this book well worth the investment of money and time with a high value return of understanding, application, and appreciation for having a positive attitude. I recommend this book to everybody. I leave you with this quote from the book, "'s easier to maintain a right attitude than it is to regain it!" ~ John C. Maxwell Craig Mattice
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book can absolutely change your life. If you're depressed, frustrated with school or work, stressed out or even if things are going great, this book is a beacon of light. Everyone can benefit from this book. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The great attitude platitude is that once you adjust the way you look at things, you¿re on your way to success and riches. Motivational writer John C. Maxwell agrees that attitude is an essential component of success, but he says that by itself it won¿t help you reach your goals. You also need skills, talent and experience. However, Maxwell believes that all things being equal, your attitude can make the difference between achieving your objectives and falling short. While this short read provides a quick fix for maintaining a positive mindset, the material is more of a fast boost than a lasting bulwark. We recommend it to those who are looking for a positive shot in the arm.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good and bad.... what is good? What is bad? In the war. Who is good? Who is bad? In everything. Who is good? Who is bad? It all seems simple. The good guys do the right thing. But is it the right thing to everyone? Are they actually the bad guy? And the bad guy, what if he is good? I don't see any difference between good and bad. They are practically the same thing. Think about it.......... <p> <p> <p> <p> <p> <p> <p> <p> Confusing thing for today! I like cheese, do you? No i dont like onions! Yuck! I will, thank you. Now go away. Hey get back here! WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? Stop it! No! Keep going! C'mon! No go away! Why are you following me!? Stop! Go away! Hey, follow me. Look treasure! No! Mine! C'mon and get some! Take another step and your gonna be needin a wheelchair. you like cheeseburgers? <p> I recommed this song if you like randomness. Your horoscope for today "Wierd Al" Yankovitch. (I dont promise that that is the right way to spell his last name.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the book. Full of reminders on keeping a positive attitude. It's amazing how quickly we can fall back into negative thinking. Highly recommend this book.
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