“I’m On It”
My Favorite Response
I remember a particular individual from several years ago. We had just started working together and I asked them to accomplish some important task that day and their response was, “I’m on it.” Immediately, I knew that I had asked the right person. Whether they had the skills or experience really didn’t matter. With that attitude, they were going to accomplish the task 100% guaranteed. I knew I wouldn’t even need to check up on them. This has since become my favorite response to a request and I try to use it with my boss whenever appropriate. I think it gives the requester a tremendous sense of certainty that you are going to make this task a priority and you are going to get it done with urgency. My delight in this phrase might harken back to my days in the military. In the U.S. Army the top non-commissioned officer in a company, a unit of about 150 soldiers, is the First Sergeant. When in formation the First Sergeant would often call out for a soldier to come to the front of the formation. The only proper response was “moving First Sergeant.” There was no room for hesitation, debate, or doubt. If the soldier hesitated, they were in for some corrective action.
I think I like this phrase so much because it demonstrates the manifestation of a positive attitude. There have been numerous studies over the years about the impact of positive attitudes such as the 2018 paper Positive Attitude Toward Math Supports Early Academic Success: Behavioral Evidence and Neurocognitive Mechanisms in the journal Psychological Science and Roger Fritz and Christopher Lane’s 2008 book The Power of a Positive Attitude. Not surprising, with as much reinforcing research and practitioner writings about the benefits of positive attitudes there is naturally some polemic or detracting writings from this concept. Barbara S. Held wrote in the Journal of Clinical Psychology an article, The tyranny of the positive attitude in America: Observation and speculation in which she puts forth the question, “If there indeed now exists unprecedented pressure to accentuate the positive, could it then be that the pressure itself to be happy and optimistic contributes to at least some forms of unhappiness?” From her analysis, she calls into question the assumption that accentuating the positive and thus by default eliminating the negative is beneficial in terms of physical and mental health. With too much pressure to always see the positive or portray a positive attitude, does that stress itself undermine our happiness and possibly our performance?
I think Held makes a fair point but it comes off to me as too pedantic of an argument - positive attitude is beneficial to performance and well being but too much pressure to have a positive attitude causes stress which results in a reduction in performance and well being. So we need a positive attitude but not too positive? Back to the military, a positive attitude towards a situation is easy when the task is easy, it aligns with your skills, and conditions are great. A positive attitude is much harder when you don’t have the right skills or the conditions are poor. A term that the military uses to describe this attitude when it’s in conflict with what the situation normally calls for is false motivation. This is defined by Sharita Knobloch EdD as, “enthusiasm synthetically manufactured in order to complete a mission.” A typical scenario in the military is that you are cold, hungry, tired, and getting rained on but you need to complete some mission or exercise. You can either be miserable and complain or put on a smile and try to enjoy it. What I learned was that your attitude as a leader is contagious. If you want others around you to maintain a high degree of motivation, a positive attitude in spite of all the obstacles is critical. This is why, no matter the task or the conditions, when I’m asked to accomplish something I try to remember to respond with, “I’m on it!”