Author: Martin Carver
The last year has been a brutal reminder of the fact that change, complexity and uncertainty will continue to be an inevitable factor of doing business in the modern world. Combined with the pace of change within sectors and competitive marketplaces, those organisations that fail to keep up or to adapt will certainly be left behind. It is therefore important that businesses are able to cope effectively with the need to innovate and adapt, but constantly doing so can take its toll.
Leading in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world is not easy, but it can be made more straightforward by supporting individuals to become more resilient, ensuring individuals at every level of a business are able to perform at their best, even when faced with what might seem relentless uncertainty and change.
In this first part of a two-part series on mental toughness in the corporate setting, we aim to provide a solid overview of why it is essential for leaders to understand the importance of providing understanding and support in this area, as well as the benefits that enhanced mental toughness can provide all-round.
What is mental toughness and why is it important?
It is important to begin by differentiating between organisational resilience and the individual qualities of mental toughness that are required among staff to make a more resilient business a reality.
Resilience is the ability of an organisation as a whole to respond to a change in circumstances, be this a shifting economic landscape, new product development or launches, change in departmental structure or all manner of other factors that impact the smooth functioning of the business. Conversely, the level of mental toughness demonstrated by individual members of a team will determine how well they react to stress, pressure, opportunity and challenge within their role.
Dr Peter Clough, co-author of Developing Mental Toughness: Improving Performance, Wellbeing and Positive Behaviour in Others, describes mental toughness as "the capacity for an individual to deal effectively with stressors, pressure and challenges and perform to the best of their abilities irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves".
Determining this capacity within an organisation's teams is a matter of combining the elements of technical skill, IQ and logical reasoning with the impact of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, intuition, meaning making and emotional intelligence.
Failure to address issues of poor mental toughness can lead to an array of situations that organisations would wish to avoid, including staff feeling a sense of being overwhelmed, leading to lower levels of productivity, absenteeism, increased tension between teams and poor performance.
On the other hand, individuals that are able to develop a high level of mental toughness will be more likely to rise to the challenge of a change in circumstances, excelling in their position despite the many conflicting pressures they might face. For businesses, this can translate into a range of benefits, from reduced levels of sickness absence and stress, through to higher overall productivity, the ability to take on more, collaborate and thrive.
Understanding the Four Cs
At the heart of developing enhanced mental toughness within any business is the important element of the Four Cs - Control, Confidence, Challenge and Commitment. Developed by AQR International, the Four Cs offer a framework for understanding the key tenets of mental toughness and are defined as:
- Control - The extent to which people feel in control of their life and their emotions
- Confidence - The extent to which people respond to difficult tasks and setbacks
- Challenge - The extent to which people respond to change and challenges
- Commitment - The extent to which a person will persist with a goal
By identifying key traits and actions within individuals that represent each of these important areas, a clearer picture of mental toughness can be developed and strategic decisions made with the knowledge of how the business will cope or not!
Differing mindsets between individuals will mean that some view change or problems in the workplace as challenges to be overcome - this relates to those who demonstrate high levels of mental toughness. Meanwhile, for another group - those with lower levels of mental toughness - these same problems can be viewed as threats and potentially feel overwhelmed. It is important to be able to identify the attitudes of staff in this key area, as the way they respond to difficult circumstances could have far-reaching impact and consequences on team, and even organisational, performance as a whole.
You might think that a high level of mental toughness is therefore always beneficial; however, in reality, the smooth running of a business may require certain individuals to have a greater sensitivity to be most effective. For instance, a mentally tough individual may be deemed to be more task-focused and harder to relate to than someone who is less so, but it takes all sorts to build a strong and cohesive team. This is where high mental toughness with high emotional intelligence can be a powerful combination.
The role of emotional intelligence in mental toughness
A focus on using emotional intelligence to support mental toughness and providing staff with the necessary skills and support to endure an ever-evolving workplace is therefore essential in driving enhanced performance over time.
The emotional landscape in which individuals find themselves on a daily basis can be fraught with stressors, from tightening deadlines to simply not getting on with colleagues leading to potential 'burn-out'. It is therefore highly beneficial for leaders to set aside time to properly assess the suitability of individuals within roles, making sure to examine not only their technical expertise, but also their ability to interact with others along with their inner strength or resilience to cope.
No team can achieve its maximum potential with members who fail to trust and support each other in achieving their goals. It is therefore essential that a strong focus is placed upon helping individuals to improve their emotional intelligence, thereby making for a more empathetic and supportive environment in which to work.
At Primeast, we work with individuals, teams and organisations to enhance their abilities in a range of areas of mental toughness and emotional intelligence, including;
- strategies and techniques to help cope with uncertainty and change
- methods to better manage workplace stress and pressure
- supporting people's ability to 'take control'
- developing people's 'bounce-back-ability' - a key factor in promoting greater overall organisational resilience
Promoting a strong culture of support and dynamism in the workplace and providing the necessary training and development to link this to overall business values can enhance the mental toughness of staff to deal with the challenges they face. Understanding the importance of this fact is just the first step for leaders; putting these programmes into practice is where the real fun begins and where the true benefits can be realised.
For a deeper dive into how you can help employees develop mental toughness, read part 2. We will showcase in detail the many techniques that can be employed to deliver enhanced mental toughness within teams, departments and organisations as a whole.
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The Joy of Work
Dr Matt Walsh, leader and coach in the healthcare sector, reflects on the need for joy in the workplace and how purpose is inextricably linked to the experience. And with times a-changing, maybe its time to check back in on purpose. Because its the fundamentals that count.
The Leadership Conversation
Martin Carver, hosts this virtual conversation and is joined by Michael Bieder and Joy Medos, friends of Primeast as they share their experiences having worked with leaders and teams in organisations globally, helping them develop the skills needed to thrive regardless of constant change and challenge.