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Four Critical Mental Toughness Markers for Leaders

Written by: Jennifer Touma | Mindscape

What do business leaders need to effectively compete and succeed in today’s uncertain business environment?

Today’s business leaders need more than leadership skills, critical thinking, and the ability to influence and keep their team motivated. Successful business leaders need to have the same mental readiness and psychological toughness as the most dedicated athlete. It’s the most valuable tool used in any life decision, in or out of the boardroom.

The Mental Toughness approach is the one overriding psychological asset that individuals, leaders and organizations depend on to carry them through critical moments of performance. It is the one attribute needed in today’s workplace to improve the productivity and quality of leadership, make the most of present opportunities, and creating opportunity where none exists.

What is Mental Toughness?

Mental Toughness is the ability to manage emotions, thoughts and actions, and how an individual responds to stressors, challenges and pressure regardless of prevailing circumstances.

Mental toughness is a learned skill, developed through experiences, deliberateness of purpose, and awareness. This learned skill is fast becoming the competitive edge for athletes, business professionals, and in life in general today.

Leadership Performance

Today’s leaders have taken a brutal pounding in the marketplace due to its rising complexity over the last few years. Even those who are succeeding are experiencing emotional and psychological exhaustion.

But what makes one leader highly effective and another average, given the same situation?

Leaders today cannot rely only on their knowledge, skills and past successes to traverse through today’s business paradigm of constant changeovers.

They must draw on psychological preparedness, a toughness that gets them through when they feel they are close to folding under the pressure. This toughness pushes them through hard “bumps in the road”, responding decisively and confidently to sudden, unforeseen challenges. Toughness helps leaders outperform competitors by remaining consistently focused, confident, and in emotional control.

Steve Bergholtz, senior facilities consultant for AmSan Division of Interline Brands in Danvers, MA, says, “The only control you have is how you respond to the situation or challenge, so respond with a positive mindset.”

As businesses look to their future, they need to prepare their most game-ready leaders to have “deep smarts” – insight based on know-how and mental toughness.

Four Critical Mental Toughness Markers for Leaders

Dr. Peter Clough, Head of Applied Psychology at University of Hull, is the foremost authority on mental toughness. As you peruse each of my expanded versions of Dr. Clough’s definitions of four critical mental toughness markers, ask yourself, “Am I mentally tough enough?”

Identifies the extent to which an individual feels in control of their life and emotions.

Game-ready leaders feel in control of their life and their emotions. They keep anxieties in check and are less likely to reveal their emotional state to others. They manage themselves by taking charge of self, so that the situation, circumstances, and others don’t.

A lack of self-control allows unrestrained behavioral practices to take control of life, resulting in ‘crashing’ under job stresses, manifesting erratic behaviors, sudden emotional outbursts, dramatic mood swings, workplace bullying. What results are career derailments and self-sabotaging behaviors.

TIP: Ease stress by coping with problems directly and quickly rather than allowing them to control emotions, behaviors and health.

Identifies the extent to which people see challenges, variety and problems as opportunities or as threats.

Game-ready leaders see challenges and problems as opportunities and actively embrace them. They learn how to thrive within the constant flux in the business environment.

Leaders readily “rise to the occasion” in their hiring practices, managing a diverse generational workforce from millennials’ to baby boomers.

By contrast, not applying mental toughness contributes to a lack of preparation to deal with the ‘unexpected’, leading to deliberately ignoring crisis situations.

The most daunting of all challenges is facing fear, based on real or imagined threats. Leaders who feel fear are apprehensive of the unknown and the lack of control it represents. Leaders may fear making the wrong decision, giving performance feedback to an employee, or leading a meeting of peers. Organizations may fear budget cuts, reorganization, or a lack of resources to meet the needs of employees and customers.

As a result, leaders hesitate to pursue relationships, invest in business opportunities, and follow through on visions and goals.

Game-ready leaders know that fortunes are made when people take chances. Remarkable achievements come through acts of courage. Speculative risks gain windfalls from a leap of faith.

Game-ready leaders know “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” words first spoken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

TIP: At the first sign of emotional pressure, ask yourself, “Am I allowing events, challenges or circumstances to control how I emotionally respond?”

Identifies the extent to which someone commits to delivering what has been promised.

Game-ready leaders have an unwavering emotional and intellectual commitment to delivering what has been promised. Commitment represents the stick-ability to carry out a task in the face of difficulties or setbacks. Commitment means persisting to achieve business and personal goals. Game-ready leaders build trusting relationships to inspire commitment, even though commitment makes us vulnerable to rejection and failure.

TIP: Connect work with meaning, combining the rational and emotional commitment of leaders and employees in ways that lead to extraordinary effort.

Identifies the extent to which people have self-belief in their abilities and the confidence to deal with setbacks and challenge.

Game-ready leaders gain confidence from achievement. They internalize a strong set of ethics, engage in effective self-management of emotions and behavior, and express principles of right conduct.

Confidence is thinking what one can do now, in the moment. By evaluating past accomplishments and experiences as successful, confidence increases. Confidence is standing up to complex challenges that lack the simple black-and-white answers. Confidence helps in coping with counterproductive emotions and thoughts.

Not applying mental toughness erodes a leader’s confidence because they play the game of business and life so as not to lose. They deliberately move away from what they want, avoid taking calculating risks or accepting new tasks, making ‘because’ excuses, and fearing success.

Game-ready leaders remain confident no matter the time or circumstances.:

TIP: Persistent pursuit of setting realistic and balanced goals.

Question: What could happen in your life and career if you could push through the hard situations when you might otherwise feel like folding under pressure?