I used to hear it used a lot when I worked in-house.
“Patrick has such a great can do attitude.”
“Helen would be so much better if she could only develop a bit more of a can do outlook on things.”
Shit, as an HRD, I myself used to describe people in that kind of way when it came to performance management and succession planning conversations.
Talent is such an individual thing and can take people far. But it’s the willingness to give things a go, day after day, that gets real results.
Can do means that you have the drive and determination to make things happen for yourself. You’re self-motivated. Nothing is a problem, or rather problems are just challenges that you’ll enjoy fixing. Your energy and enthusiasm inspires others. And bosses and clients love that you just get on with things.
What’s the problem with that?
Well, none, I thought. Until I started to think about it through the lens of a few folks I’ve been working with recently.
One of them had had an unexpected meltdown in front of his boss the other week in response to a request. Such behaviour was so uncharacteristic of him that questions were being asked. Having been referred by another client, he was sitting in front of me despairing about what he should do.
Turns out he’d been kind of play-acting being one of these can do sorts. Somewhere along the way of his life, he’d swallowed the belief that he’d get the approval of others, if he looked like he was up for stuff that seemed important to them. But quite often his heart wasn’t really in the things he was saying “yes” to. And a ton of hidden resentment had built up over some time towards this particular boss.
The trouble was, of course, that he’d been stuffing down his own feelings about it. Never mind being honest with her, he wasn’t even being honest with himself.
Her request was, for him, the straw that broke the camel’s back.
His apparently unprovoked rage left her thinking that her star team member was losing his marbles. Which, to an extent, was what he himself was thinking before we unraveled it.
Another guy was barely holding himself together when I saw him. He too did a good job of looking as if he had a can do attitude. He’d made himself almost indispensable – or so he thought – to his team and the business he worked for. But he wasn’t getting the kind of kudos and rewards that he expected for his efforts, was getting angrier and angrier inside, and had got to the point of wanting to quit his job. Again he’d confronted none of this directly.
I counselled him that he’d be unwise to leave until he’d faced some of his own unhelpful behaviour. Otherwise he may just repeat it elsewhere.
Meantime I reflected about these guys. It was not the can do attitude itself that was letting them down. It was that they’d been faking it. And it was that that was knocking them sideways.
How real is your can do?
Check in with yourself: if you consider that you have a can do attitude, is it for real? Or is it an act you’ve adopted because you think it’ll get you places?
Here are five questions to help you think about it more.
How often do you feel really happy?
Most real can do folks are driven by a strong inner compass. They have a genuine happiness and confidence that keeps them buoyant through challenges. They can smile a lot and see the funny side of things. What you see is what you get.
Pseudo can doers also smile, but their grin can hide feelings not congruent with their outer appearance. They don’t have the same resiliency. Their happiness is at the mercy of other people’s.
If there’s a little bit of fakery going on, your challenge is to stop giving so much of a shit what others think about you and start asking yourself what’s important to you. Do a values inventory. Spend time with a coach understanding what your beliefs are.
How do you orient yourself to life and work?
Real can do people have a big sense of personal responsibility. They see themselves as being in charge of their own lives. They also tend to come from a place of service. Sure, they want to know that the rewards they get for their efforts are fair, but their first concern is about delivering value. It’s about what they can give.
Fakers on the other hand come from a place of what they can get. They do a good job of acting as if they are serving some common good, but they have an agenda. That agenda is often about winning approval or getting something back. Because they are less inwardly directed, and more concerned about what the world thinks of them and what the world is going to give them as a result.
So, if you’re a phony can do person, the key switch here is to turn your attention beyond yourself – once you’re clear about what that “self” is - and take real pleasure in serving other people and other things.
How do you deal with mistakes or failure?
Sure, those who have a genuine can do outlook will sometimes fall on their face, but they tend to see things that go wrong as opportunities from which to learn and grow.
Fake can do folks might appear to brush failure aside, but inside they ruminate on what went wrong, how crap this shows they are, and how bad that looks. They may quietly carry their concerns home with them to brood upon.
If can do is currently a façade for you, your challenge here is to allow yourself to fail more, and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
How do you handle a tough client or colleague?
Real deal can doers remember they come from a place of service. They hear the concerns or challenges and they deal with them with both assertiveness and empathy. They find a way to work with the situation, and if they can’t, they are clear and accepting of their own limitations.
Fakers keep smiling. They often accept whatever shit is being handed out, even if it takes them beyond their level of competency. At times they can feel massively uneasy. But they’ll rarely admit it. To do so may mean they get disapproved of. And how bad would that be?
Fakers, the key thing for you here is to learn how to stay in relationship and say what’s true for you. That may sound like a paradox to you at the moment, but it’s the essence of cracking this one.
How do you deal with challenges to your personal boundaries?
Genuine can do people will choose in each instant how to deal with a challenge to his or her boundaries. An expectation to work into the evening for a week may be met because it’s work they love doing and they can see the purpose of doing so. Or it may be challenged, or bargained over, because it jars with a long-standing personal arrangement.
The phoney can doers will be more inclined to outwardly smile and accept each boundary challenge. They love to believe that they are indispensable. Hanging around allows them to stay in control.
If can do is a mask you wear and you care to change it, one of the key things to give up is the myth of your indispensability. Watch with more clarity to what you say “yes” when you really mean “no”. Practice saying “no” more often.
Why should you care?
Keeping up a veneer that you are one of the can do population, when that is not your place, is not just inauthentic. It’s dangerous for you.
It’s amazing how many folks get so caught up in stuff that they lose connection with themselves. Stop wondering about how you appear to the rest of the world for a while, and focus instead on your own beliefs and values. The more you can be clear about these and act from that place, the better the experience you give yourself and others.
And the better your results.