Developing mental toughness: A How-to Guide (Part 2) | Learning & Development | Primeast

Mental toughness is a key attribute in enabling staff to cope effectively with change and enhances their ability to successfully complete their daily duties with confidence and focus. It is an essential factor in delivering enhanced performance for teams, departments and organisations as a whole, with a strong level of mental fortitude coupled with high levels of emotional intelligence integral to getting the most out of staff. And mental toughness and resilience without effective interpersonal skills could even be damaging.

We've spoken previously about the importance of mental toughness in the workplace. And with such a focus on resilience for individuals, leaders AND organisations in the current times, here we aim to provide a framework for businesses to achieve outstanding results whilst preserving the wellbeing of their employees. We will focus specifically on the actions that can be taken by businesses and organisations keen to understand both the existing mindset of their staff and the steps that can be taken to boost mental toughness across the board.

Preparation is key to developing understanding

Before action to improve levels of mental toughness among staff can take place, it is essential that leaders understand the existing level of mental fortitude within their workforce. We touched on the Four Cs of Control, Confidence, Challenge and Commitment for staff as set out by AQR International in our previous article, but how do organisations go about evaluating these key factors and then build strategies based on the data?

This information can be achieved through a range of methods - interviews, focus groups, performance appraisal feedback, employee engagement surveys (see our article The employee engagement survey is dead; long live continuous dialogue!). So how can you undertake a survey which provides a basis upon which organisations can take into account the readiness and ability of their people to take on more and help inform us how to build tailored development programmes to deliver the business vision. This is where AQR's MTQ48 questionnaire comes into play.

MTQ48 is a unique 48-point psychometric test that identifies key strengths and weaknesses within the mental resolve of those participants. Analysis of the results breaks down a person's mental attributes into the key areas of the Four Cs and provides a score in each category. These relate to:

  • Control - Life control (I believe I can do it) and emotional control (I can manage my emotions and the emotions of others).
  • Confidence - In abilities (I have the necessary skills or I can acquire them) and interpersonal skills (I can influence others/stand my ground if needed).
  • Challenge - Risk taking (I can push myself/being driven to succeed) and learning from experience (viewing setbacks as an opportunity for learning).
  • Commitment - Goal setting (I promise to do it and like working towards goals) and achieving (I can do what it takes to fulfil my promises and achieve what I set out to do).

  • When each participant has completed the questionnaire and received their own personal development report, these can be consolidated into an organisational report. This information can then provide an overall picture of the level of mental toughness and resilience in each of the core areas. Specific development activities and training programmes can then be used to enhance skills and attitudes based on these findings.

    Utilising the Four Cs for best results

    What is key to this process is understanding that benchmarking staff in this manner is simply the beginning of the process, with the need to effectively address any deficiencies that are highlighted in the research being the next step. Building a plan of action based on hard data of the organisation's capability to cope and sustain growth is fundamental.

    There are a multitude of activities that can help to bolster a person's mental toughness, with the use of group sessions a particularly effective means to reinforce positive behaviour and to share best practice within an organisation. By identifying the mental processes which lie behind the way individuals act in specific circumstances, this knowledge can be used to engage people and support a change in behaviour for the future.

    Indeed, in the process, participants are given the opportunity to provide their own examples of the challenges they face, and then recognise how effective they have been in the past in overcoming these - providing an opportunity to share best practice and giving insight and confidence to others that may have fewer strategies for coping in their own job.

    How? Ranging from utilising effective planning, breaking down larger tasks into more manageable parts, or by providing the understanding that sometimes it is better to take a step back and re-focus, rather than ploughing on with a task that is taking a heavy toll. Other strategies highlighted in sessions that we have held in the past included:

    • Putting a positive slant on a negative outcome. What can I learn? How can I avoid these mistakes in the future? What elements worked well to build on?
    • Exploring options as part of a team - constructive challenge, sharing knowledge and expertise, building a supportive and controlled environment to deliver lasting change for the good of everyone.
    • Recognise each other's strengths and weaknesses - nobody is perfect, but complementary skills and mindsets can make the whole far greater than the sum of its parts.
    • Develop a shared sense of purpose - by aligning one's individual philosophy to that of the business and those around them, this too provides a clearer path to success, building confidence and commitment.
    • Listen deeply to each other beyond self-interest - ask questions allowing new perspectives and solutions to emerge, challenge assumptions and the status quo. Ultimately, teams only function effectively if everyone is on the same page, trust is evident and commitment consistently demonstrated.

    Mental toughness is not something that every individual will be able to demonstrate to the same degree, but by focusing on the sharing of knowledge and providing the reassurance that there is support if needed, all members of staff can come away from these sessions with a stronger resolve and a clearer sense of how to cope in difficult circumstances.

    Simple steps to improving resilience

    Successful and resilient organisations are made up of resilient people who can demonstrate mental toughness balanced with emotional intelligence. Indeed, AQR states there are a range of factors directly affected by an individual's mental toughness. A variation of up to 25 per cent in performance can be attributed to this, while those with a 'can do/will do' attitude have been found to be more engaged and more positive about their role and make significant contributions to success. Higher levels of mental toughness also help to promote a stronger sense of wellbeing for staff, with individuals also demonstrating higher aspirations and being better-equipped to handle risk and change.

    So, as you can see, enhancing the mental toughness of staff can provide an array of benefits. It's now simply a matter of providing the required resources and know-how to ensure your workforce is operating to the best of its ability.

    For a quick refresher regarding the importance of mental toughness for all organisations, you can read the opening part of our dialogue on this intriguing topic at 'Organisational resilience and the importance of mental toughness'.

    About the Author


    Martin Carver

    Martin Carver is a Partner at Primeast. An experienced management consultant, facilitator and professional speaker based in the UK, working globally on leadership development and consulting assignments.

    Martin uses his extensive , leadership, co-active coaching, team development and consultancy experience across a variety of industries and sectors. He is deeply passionate in supporting growth and learning, facilitating transformational and values-based leadership, developing people and organisations for sustainable results.

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