Keith Harrell – 1955 - 2010

Keith Harrell – 1955 – 2010

“Your attitude today, determines your success tomorrow.”  Keith Harrell

Sometime around 2000, I had the good fortune to meet Keith Harrell.  Keith was the keynote at a leadership development program I was attending sponsored by the Healthcare Financial Management Association.  His topic, which was always his topic, was “Attitude is Everything.”  His nickname was “Dr. Attitude.”  Keith was larger than life, not only because of his attitude, but also because he was 6’ 7” and a former basketball player.

What he had to say, and how he delivered it was powerful.  His topic resonated with me.  He and I connected later and had a wonderful discussion.  We were kindred spirits when it came to the power of attitude.

From time to time I like to select topics for leaders that aren’t always talked about.  When I decided to write about attitude, I thought of Keith.  I pulled his book off my shelf and began skimming through it.  I see him all over the stage engaging the audience.  It brought back great memories.

I got curious about what Keith was doing some 18 years later. To my shock and dismay, I discovered that Keith had died from cancer in 2010.   I was stunned, given the vision of vitality that I remember about Keith.  And then I remembered.  The length of our life is not guaranteed.

While I was saddened to learn of Keith’s passing, I was also thankful that he had been a part of my life.  He impacted it, as he did thousands of others.  His was a life well lived.  I put a link at the end of our discussion on attitude that is a memorial to Keith.  I share it as a tribute to all the people who understand that attitude is everything.

Be well and do your best work,


Attitude is Everything

I was around 20 when I created the following rule for myself.  “You will never be ‘down in the dumps’ for more than 48 hours.”  I’m not sure where it came from, other than I knew I came from a family who had members who suffered from depression, and I wanted to take all the steps I could to avoid it.

If you saw me in the 49th hour and asked me how I was, I would say that I was great!  What I discovered is that whether I was or wasn’t feeling great, the act of saying that ‘I was great’ had the desired effect.  It increased my energy.  This is a good example of “fake it til you make it.”

Fast forward 27 years.  A good friend of mine was working for me at the time, and we were having a difficult conversation concerning his handling of a client.  I remember his response was pretty negative.  I remember offering a different way for him to look at it.  He stopped, looked at me, and said, “How the ____ do you always find the silver lining in EVERYTHING!”  He was frustrated with me.  It’s not always easy to be around positive people.  My friend, Richard, says that I am a ‘terminal’ optimist.  My defense is simple.  I find people with positive energy are a lot more fun to be around.

Attitude is a Choice

What I learned at 20, and have refined ever since, is that attitude is a choice; and not just attitude.  Every day we face countless choices about what we wish to do, and who we wish to be.  In the end, we are our choices.

While I would tell you that even prior to 20, I was ‘the glass is half full’ person.  My ‘rule’ was intended to force the issue of choosing my attitude even more.  I wanted my attitude to propel me in life, not weigh me down.  I knew for that to occur that I would have to change my attitude for those moments when life was difficult.  It wasn’t that I needed to be ‘happier,’ but it did mean that I understood life in a fundamentally different way.

It (life) was not happening ‘to’ me.  It was simply happening, just as it did for everyone else.  Some ‘events’ were such that I needed to recognize that they would pass and to not dwell on them.  Others, were serious enough (i.e., the death of my mother) that I had to learn to carry the sorrow of the loss with grace, not permitting it to consume me.  These ‘shifts’ in thinking allowed me to learn how to balance the ‘seasons of life’ without changing my attitude.

There are some people that seem to have a special ‘it’ about them.  They exude a certain external energy, driven by an internal belief system that is a product of their ‘personal’ work.  Their choices help them produce more positive energy.   They also tend to be people who don’t allow circumstances to control their attitude.  If this is a challenge for you, I would invite you to consider what the benefit would be if you could see life’s ‘circumstances’ as simply things that happen and not allow them to control your attitude?

Attitude reflects who you are.  It is an identifying ‘mark.’  It affects all that you do.  Think of your work.  How does your attitude affect what you are like to interact with?  Does your attitude help you enjoy your work more?  Does your attitude help you overcome obstacles, or does it create obstacles?  Think of home.  Is your attitude one that is embraced by the significant people in your life, or could a different attitude impact more positively your relationships?  What are the attitudes that are helping you?  What are attitudes that are hurting you?  Do you need an ‘attitude tune-up?’

Keith spend most of his adult life speaking to, and modeling for, people how their attitude was affecting the quality of their life.  He wrote several books.  The one I read, Attitude is Everything, was published in 2000.  His ten-step process to an attitude ‘tune-up’ remains as sound today as when he wrote it.  If you think you need some help in changing your attitude, check it out.  Here are his 10 steps.

Step 1: Understand the Power of Attitude

Step 2: Choose to Take Charge of Your Life

Step 3: Identify Through Self-Awareness the Attitudes That Hold You Back or Propel You Forward

Step 4: Reframe Your Bad Attitude

Step 5: Find Your Purpose and Passion

Step 6: Be Pre-Active

Step 7: Discover How to Motivate Yourself

Step 8: Build Supportive Relationships

Step 9: See Change as an Opportunity

Step 10: Leave a Lasting Legacy

What ‘got us here’ in terms of our attitude can change.  Some of our attitude is based on deeply held beliefs and assumptions.  If you find that part of your attitude does not benefit you, take the steps to change it.  With work, your current habits/reactions can change.  They can make a difference in the quality of your life and the success you experience.

Thank you, Keith.

To a better you…





Of Interest:  A tribute to Keith Harrell – motivational speaker, great encourager, and all around great human being.


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