We cannot hold a serious discussion about becoming a resilient leader without considering how to build mental toughness. In fact, mental toughness is the key to becoming more resilient, whether that is as a leader or personally. Fortunately, it is something that can be developed through learning and practice.
In this article, I will explain some easy to apply steps to work on and develop mental toughness. Then, in subsequent articles, I will take a closer look at its main components giving each a separate article. The aim of this is that, by the end of this series of articles, readers should be able to really develop their resilience through becoming more mentally tough.
What is ‘Mental Toughness’?
As suggested above, mental toughness is the main component of resilience. Learn how to be mentally tough and you will become a more resilient leader. It refers to an individual’s capacity to deal with the various challenges, pressures, demands and stressors that life throws at us. For those in a leadership role, these stressors and demands are confronted on a daily basis.
Why Develop Mental Toughness?
As suggested above, mental toughness is the main component of resilience. Learn how to be mentally tough and you will become a more resilient leader. It is a vital skill to learn in the workplace because, to put it bluntly, the mentally tough thrive in the cut and thrust of rapidly changing working environments.
Leaders in the workplace deal with challenges and stressors every day that can erode their confidence and self-esteem. They lead people and business critical processes and deal continually with situations that will test their resolve and character and need to be able to cope with these effectively.
Mental toughness is crucial for overcoming these challenges and thriving, not just surviving. Those who thrive will be more successful.
Developing Mental Toughness
- You can always choose.
In practically every situation we will ever face, we have a choice. We can almost always choose how to respond or react. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, referred to our ability to choose in any circumstance as the ‘last of the human freedoms’. We must learn to practice our ability to choose our response so we can develop the mindset that enables us to persevere during times of stress and challenge.
- Develop a positive attitude.
Practicing your ability to choose will reinforce the fact that you are always in control of our attitude in most circumstances and that you should choose a positive attitude. A positive attitude is absolutely crucial to building your mental toughness because it allows you to decide how to handle stress and challenge. Positivity is a core element of most of the points here to develop your mental toughness.
- Reframe obstacles as learning experiences.
Part of choosing a positive attitude is your ability to look at difficult situations differently. Learning to reframe these obstacles and challenges as learning opportunities is a key trait that sets resilient leaders apart. They can adapt to challenging situations because they learn from the experiences of past similar situations. They reflect on the situation, grasp the context and, by adopting a positive attitude, they persevere and learn while overcoming the obstacle.
- Focus on your strengths.
You can amplify your strengths by focusing on them, increasing feelings of confidence, happiness and engagement. In turn, these feelings will give you increased energy and motivation enabling you to experience ‘flow’ by getting totally immersed in your work.
To experience flow, set some quiet time aside to focus on an important task that also happens to be something you enjoy doing. Make sure you clear away any distractions and dedicate yourself to learning how to focus on that task for as long as possible/necessary.
It is also important to focus on the strengths of your team members. This leads to decreased staff turnover and improved performance. Your customers will also be happier.
- View setbacks as temporary.
This is an extension of points 1-4 above. Learn to embrace the setback, view it as a challenge to be solved and aim to learn from it so you can use it to power future positive choices and attitude. Continue to look at things from a positive point of view so you can learn to become more optimistic which will then help develop your mental toughness.
- Build strong positive relationships.
People need relationships. The workplace is one big network of relationships. However, workplace politics, toxic relationships and loneliness at work can chip away your resilience and mental toughness. According to research reported in the Harvard Business Review, 50% of 835 respondents reported that they got their resilience ‘from my relationships’. This is a massively important result.
It shows that you cannot do it all by yourself. No-one is an island. You need positive relationships with your team members, your peers/colleagues and your leaders. Without this, you are likely to feel more disengaged from your work. If you feel this way, how do you think your team members feel? They will take their lead from you.
- Be consistent
As above, your team members will take their lead from you and will look to your reactions when the team is under pressure and experiencing stress. Mentally tough leaders do not allow short-term setbacks, negative feedback, criticism, short deadlines or short-term profits derail how they work towards their vision. They have clear goals that they work towards every day and will maintain this approach when under pressure. It has become habitual to set goals and work towards them. Their team will sense their leader’s calmness and control in the situation and follow suit.
You will want to develop the same habit of goal setting. This gives your focus, direction and motivation to succeed every day. ‘Direction’ is particularly important in challenging times as people lacking resilience will be influenced by short-term pressures and will be perceived as ‘flapping about’. You do not want your team taking this as the required behaviour in tough times. Support your team members to develop the same habit.
- Lead with empathy
Empathy will play a key role in moving your team to form habitual behaviour such as setting clear goals every day. Your people will want to feel supported, listened to and valued. They need to feel that they are trusted.
So, you will need to openly trust your team members, solicit their opinions and suggestions and make decisions based on this trust. Recognise the skills and talents held by each team member and encourage leadership to flow naturally through your team so the person with the skills, expertise or knowledge is advising on the decision.
This will build resilience and mental toughness in both you and the team.
Mental toughness is a core element of becoming a resilient leader. This article is aimed at giving you guidance on some areas of your leadership to look at and develop so you can become mentally tougher.
In the next article, I will take a closer look at the key components of building mental toughness, starting with ‘focus’.
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