When it comes to success and leading a winning organization, there are no substitutes for determination and mental toughness. It is easy to demonstrate mental toughness when things are going well, business is up and accomplishments come easily. However, the true test of mental toughness is what one does when the chips are really down. The past few years have presented us with a challenging economy and war, which in turn has provided us with examples of leaders who have demonstrated the mental toughness to lead and win and some who could not. I still consider myself young at the age of 38 and still have many more challenges ahead of me to test my mental toughness. Yet, these last few years have brought a host of personal and professional challenges for me that caused me to reflect on what it takes to be mentally tough and win. Here are a few thoughts on mental toughness:
1. Challenges, setbacks, failures, crises, etc. are experiences for the future and rarely final. I have found that the times I have failed or endured a significant crisis, I learned a more lasting and impactful lesson. I wish it were the other way around, where my accomplishments taught me more, but I guess it is just a of nature, or maybe I am just thick headed. I have also learned that even when failure and setbacks have made the future look so gloomy, they are rarely final, and with the right “lens” they are opportunities. They also provide good stories to share with peers, team members and your children. I have often read that great leaders also tell great stories. I never quite understood what they meant. Now, with more business experience, I have more stories and I am sharing them with others during their challenges. If you pick yourself up today and drive on, you will have a great story to tell.
2. Control your attitude. There are a lot of things that are beyond our control, especially in the face of adversity. If you make a mistake, there are consequences through which you are going to suffer. Don not try to control the consequences, but rather control your attitude about the situation. Stay positive. Stay hopeful. The upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournaments will give us several examples of “it’s not over until it’s over” stories. I think this is one of the most important aspects of mental toughness — the ability to keep control over your attitude and continue to work hard and get to the other side.
3. Focus on the future. Great athletes talk a lot about forgetting failures (i.e., bad shots, missed field goals, dropped passes, poor starts). The second you dwell on the past, label yourself a victim or allow yourself to believe that you are powerless, you make yourself weaker. Winners focus on the future — the shots that are still in front of them. What you do right now and in the future is within your control. What has already happened to you is history.
4. Be courageous. Facing adversity, doubting your own abilities, pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone can be scary. Very few people have the courage to regularly face what scares them, so they avoid these types of situations. I think this is why I see former military officers quitting jobs when they start seeing real problems or facing setbacks. They are scared of being part of a problem-riddled organization, uncertainty of the future, potentially getting laid off, or worst of all, being patient and riding out the storm. These types of things should not get your attention, but don’t let yourself be limited by your fears. Some people think leaders are good at facing their fears because of their confidence. The exact opposite is true. It is BECAUSE they consistently face their fears that leaders BECOME confident. It is a habit that makes them stronger and better leaders.
5. Don’t run from problems. Don’t run away from fierce competition or tough setbacks. These are events that test your character, your determination, your ability to fight through tough situations. I am still surprised when I talk with former military officers who run from career problems. I spoke to one today who was considering quitting his company because of some major product setbacks. I spoke to one last week who wanted to quit because of a conflict with a boss. I suggest you let all the B Players run for the doors when the going gets tough. The A Players don not run. They use their internal motivation to start fighting even harder.
Winning comes from the relentless quest to keep going day after day and never giving up. Champions demonstrate daily that they will not let anything interfere with achieving their goals. Setting and reaching demanding goals, overcoming tough obstacles and facing competition, drive champions to push harder. Incorporating this type of drive into everyday life is hard, and this is why so few athletes and business professionals become champions.
Book Recommendation.: I recently read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It has been on many best seller lists since it came out earlier this year. The book tells the true story of Olympic runner Louie Zamperini’s life specifically focusing on his experience stranded at sea and as a POW in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.