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Developing mental toughness in leadership and why it matters

By: Doug Strycharczyk, CEO, AQR International on May 24th

WATCH THE VIDEO TO UNCOVER WHAT MENTAL TOUGHNESS IS AND THE BENEFITS
 

ASSESSING YOUR OWN MENTAL TOUGHNESS

An important by-product of developing the concept of Mental Toughness has been forming a reliable and valid psychometric measure – the MTQPlus. This helps users to assess one’s levels across overall mental toughness, the 4 Cs and the eight factors.

Like many psychometric instruments, the MTQPlus uses what is called a Sten Scale to indicate the level of mental toughness. The MTQPlus is also a normative measure.

This means that the level of an individual’s mental toughness is shown on a scale of 1–10, compared to the average score achieved by a normal person. An example can be seen below.

The “norm” for an average or typical person would be 5.5 on each scale. The scores often associated with mental sensitivity are those in the 1–3 range. Scores achieved by the mentally tough tend to fall in the 8–10 range. Sixteen percent of most populations fall into these categories. Around two thirds of us score in the 4–7 range and can therefore consider ourselves to be reasonably mentally tough.

However, the important thing here is that we are all different. Our profiles may vary even if our overall level of mental toughness is the same.

HOW TO BUILD MENTAL TOUGHNESS

It is possible to build Mental Toughness.

When training Mental Toughness, the essence is to create self-awareness of our current level. From that we can decide whether we need to develop aspects of our Mental Toughness or stay as we are and, instead, learn coping strategies for those times when it might create an issue for us.

The concept and the measure have become increasingly frequent components of leadership development programs.

As with any development activity it will progress through key stages:

1. Self-awareness, reflection and diagnosis
 

The above example of a test output is real. The individual had many advantages in dealing with a very challenging leadership role. However, we can see that there is indication of mental sensitivity around two factors – Emotional Control and Learning Orientation.

Initially the individual agreed that they didn’t stop to think about things that didn’t go to plan. They disagreed that they were less able at managing their emotions. In fact, they saw revealing their emotions as an example of their passion for their role.

2. Deciding to take action

Feedback and discussion led to an awareness that perhaps wasn’t always an advantage. The leader acknowledged that this was an issue and concluded that this was a priority for development because it was affecting their own and others’ performance and wellbeing.

3. Action

The individual was introduced to techniques for managing emotional responses and committed to practice these. Guided imagery was a particularly effective intervention.

The result: restoration of wellbeing and performance.

Mental toughness is in one sense invisible. It is describing what goes on in one’s head. Unlike behavior, we can’t see it. But it has a big impact on leadership effectiveness. The concept and the measure enable us to access this.

In the words of one user: “It’s making the invisible, visible”.

WHY IS MENTAL TOUGHNESS IMPORTANT FOR BUSINESS LEADERS?

Before we begin, it is important to realize that it is not useful to think in terms of strengths and weaknesses here. Generally, a mentally tough leader will have an advantage in many settings, but not always. It is perfectly possible for a mentally tough leader to struggle. It is equally possible for a mentally sensitive leader to prosper.

Demonstrating leadership often requires maintaining poise in the face of difficulty, keeping focus on what is truly important, being bold to see opportunity when others see threat and having belief in one’s own capability to deal with whatever arises.

Stress, pressure, challenge and opportunity are consistent features of everyone’s lives. Those who aspire to provide leadership have a heightened sense of the stressors and pressures of work and life; to succeed in providing leadership, we still need to bring mental toughness to bear on what we need to do.

As Henry Ford once put it: “If we think we can, we can. If we think we can’t, we are probably right”.

Indeed, we have always known this to be important. Plato spoke about fortitude, the Romans spoke about stoicism, others talked about resilience. However, until recently it was too difficult to describe in such a way so that every person could grasp it, develop self-awareness and ultimately use this to be the best version of themselves that they could be.

Developing this self-awareness is crucial for any aspiring leaders, and there are two factors to be considered.

Firstly, what is my mental toughness profile and what does it mean for me in striving to deal with the world around me? Which factors can hold me back and which factors are an asset? That is contributing to my leadership capability.

Secondly, and of equal importance in leadership, what does my Mental Toughness profile mean for the way I engage with other people? Does my understanding of Mental Toughness enable me to understand why others respond the way they do when asked to do something?

Here we present eight factors and indicate their significant implication on leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doug Strycharczyk, Peter Clough and John Perry are co-authors of ‘Developing Mental Toughness: Strategies to Improve Performance, Resilience and Wellbeing in Individuals and Organizations’, which is available in hardback, paperback or as an ebook here. Use code HAYS20 for a 20% discount.

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