Attitude or skill? Which is preferable?

April 21, 2010

By Dr. Nate Booth

In my last Tips & Tricks article, I discussed hiring for attitude. When it comes to hiring team members, which is more important — attitude or skill?

Unfortunately, attitude is often not given proper respect in team recruitment. While enthusiastic, optimistic people can learn new skills, attitudes are more pervasive qualities that are typically fixed by adulthood. In the words of W.W. Siege, “Nothing can stop a person with the right mental attitude from achieving a goal; nothing on earth can help the person with the wrong mental attitude.”

Combining attitude and skill
Based on the two variables of attitude and skill, there are four possible groups of people:

1. Positive attitude/high skill.
These gems make the surest contribution to your practice. Therefore, hiring and retaining them is your first priority. They are rare, in demand, and command the best pay. But pay is not the only reward they seek. They must also feel appreciated and professionally stimulated. They can be the best trainers of other team members. Make sure these people are part of your new employee selection process.

2. Positive attitude/low skill. These highly motivated individuals are the next best bet for your practice. These people are often diamonds in the rough. They have great potential to grow into the skill level the job demands. You can help develop that level by initially giving them duties they can handle, along with large doses of internal and external training. They rise to the occasion when given appropriate responsibilities, praise, and rewards for their improvement.

3. Negative attitude/high skills.
These are the people who can drain your energy and keep you awake at night. They are usually overly critical of other team members who don’t live up to their high standards. It’s tempting to keep them around because, after all, they are very talented. What they need is feedback. Tell them what you expect when it comes to attitude and behavior. Give them a chance to improve. If they don’t, suggest a “career redirection” before they drain the enthusiasm of your entire team.

4. Negative attitude/low skill. Don’t hire these people. If one of these individuals does surface in your team, sever the relationship as soon as possible. Or you can stick your foot in a blender for another six months. The choice is yours.

In my next Tips & Tricks article, I will discuss how to train for skill.

Check out Dr. Joe Blaes’ and Nate’s book, 555 Ways to Reward Your Dental Team, at

Dr. Nate Booth is a speaker, consultant, and author who provides dentists with the information and systems they need to thrive in their dental practices. Dr. Booth teaches at the South Beach Dental Institute and is a practice management advisor for ChaseHealthAdvance. He is the creator of the in-office, DVD-based program, The "Yes" System: How to Make It Easy for People to Accept Comprehensive Dentistry. For more information, go to, or call (800) 917-0008.