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The Power of a Positive Attitude

Posted by on October 26, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Last week, I was walking down Washington’s famed “K Street” when I came upon a homeless man playing a trumpet. A panhandler on K Street is a very common occurrence, and one playing a musical instrument is also a fairly regular sight. But this one caught my attention.

As I approached him on the sidewalk, I saw that the man had one leg, was in a wheelchair, and was probably around 60 years old. The tune was familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. And then the chorus kicked in. “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing, don’t you worry ‘bout a thing…” It was Stevie Wonder’s hit from 1973.

It made for a peppy tune on a sunny, 65-degree fall day in our nation’s capital. I must admit that I usually walk right by and keep my money in my purse when it comes to panhandlers. But on this day I did not.

Not only did this little ditty help pick up my spirits, I couldn’t shake the irony of the moment. Here was a man restricted to a wheelchair, an amputee, and probably living in a DC homeless shelter at night, at best. But yet he was playing, “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing” so the rest of us could have a better day. Now that’s a positive attitude.

Just the day before, I had attended a memorial service at the Kennedy Center for the long-time Washington powerbroker, Anne Wexler (who I blogged about in August upon her death). Over a period of almost 30 years, she had built a lobbying business into one of the most successful and reputable firms in town.

Wexler was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 79, and told by doctors that she only had a couple of months to live. So she used those final weeks to plan every aspect of her memorial service, including the music that would be played.

Toward the end of the service, just after former President Bill Clinton had spoken about Anne, they showed a video comprised of still photos from her life. During the video, several of Anne’s favorite Broadway tunes played in the background. The final song was the farcical “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from Monty Python. It was the tune I was humming as I left the service.

Although dying of cancer, Anne was still looking on the bright side. This type of positive thinking was Anne Wexler’s trademark, and had much to do with her success as a business woman and an adviser to Presidents.

There is no substitute for a positive attitude. It’s contagious. When it starts at the top, it permeates throughout the entire organization. Employees who have an optimistic outlook and are surrounded by managers who help breed this culture will always outperform the glass-half-empty types.

Sounds like a song you should be humming.