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How to Develop Mental Toughness in Leaders
Business leaders, much like athletes, need to be psychologically ready to play. Mentoring and coaching can help them cultivate this trait.
Of all the competencies sought after by today’s budding business leaders — critical thinking, emotional intelligence, the ability to influence and inspire a team, to name a few — perhaps the most valuable is one that isn’t learned in a boardroom but on a baseball or soccer field as children.Mental toughness is a term commonly used in sports — a term many begin to hear from coaches in youth athletics. Tuning out the noise or pressure and performing to potential in an otherwise difficult situation is what makes fans admire the most astute professional athlete. It’s not that the quarterback was able to throw the winning touchdown, but the fact that he or she was able to do so under the tight and uncomfortable circumstances of the situation.While sports stars grab the majority of headlines in the mental toughness arena, this trait has become essential for leaders to be successful in business as well, according to Christine M. Riordan, dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Global business leaders, facing the complexity of an uncertain working environment, need to have the same psychological readiness as an athlete. It’s not just a matter of leaders’ knowledge, ability or skill that sets them up for success, but also an ability to deal with the pressure and stress of competition, fatigue and failure, Riordan wrote in a 2010 Forbes article, “Six Elements of Mental Toughness.”Riordan’s six elements of mental toughness are:
• Flexibility. “Just like a quarterback faced with a broken play, a leader must [be able] to decide quickly on a different way to get the ball down the field.”
• Responsiveness. “Game-ready leaders are able to remain engaged, alive and connected with a situation when under pressure. They are constantly identifying the opportunities, challenges and threats in the environment.”
• Strength. Mentally tough leaders “find the strength to dig deep and garner the resolve to keep going, even when in a seemingly losing game.”
• Courage and ethics. Leaders have to have the ability “to make hard but right decisions for the organization.”
• Resiliency. Leaders need to be able to rebound from disappointments.
• Sportsmanship. Have a “Bring it on!” mentality.
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