How to Sustain Mental Toughness in Business

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By Colleen Lindberg
August 13th Edition

The business world just keeps getting more complex. Wouldn’t you agree? More ways to market, more things to do, challenges, getting in touch with people… all of these play a factor.

Complexity and turbulence in the business environment may be here to stay, but they present opportunities as well as challenges for leaders. I know the pressure isn’t going away, and so do other leaders in the organizations I deal with and talk to. More likely, it will intensify. Still, I say, “Bring it on!”

Research and common sense tell us that top competitive athletes succeed because of their physical talents and their dedication to training. However, they also succeed because of their dexterity in dealing with the psychological pressures of their sport. In short, mental toughness and resilience are tremendously important for any athlete aiming to be the best in a sport.

As a result, many athletes engage in training their psychological readiness. At the root of mental training in sports is this question: Are you mentally tough enough to compete? Can you bring it when it gets intense, can you handle the stress of the competition, and are you able to push through the boundaries when the going gets tough, all of these pertain to mental toughness in sports and in life.

Here are five traits that equally apply in sports and in business that once mastered will create mental toughness and will allow us to sustain activities, thoughts and productivity.

Flexibility. Game-ready leaders have the ability to absorb the unexpected and remain supple and non-defensive. They maintain humor even when the situation becomes tough. If something isn’t going well or doesn’t turn out as expected, they remain flexible in their approach and look for new ways to solve the problem. Just like a quarterback faced with a broken play, a leader may have to decide quickly on a different way to get the ball down the field.

Also, leaders must continually be open to re-educating themselves, even in the basics, which they may have taken for granted for too long. They need to exercise caution in defensively falling back on ideas they know and are comfortable with rather than looking for new ways of doing business.

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. They understand that they need to think differently about how their environment and business operate.

The problems we encounter now are messier and more complicated than ever before. They often can’t be solved in the ways others were. Game-ready leaders look for new ways to think about these problems and, more important, look for fresh ways out of these problems. They have a sense of urgency about responding to the changing face of business.

Courage and ethics. Game-ready leaders do the right thing for the organization and the team. They suppress the temptation to cut corners or to undermine others so they come out on top. They have the courage to make the hard but right decisions for the organization. Courage means having to stand in decisions, even when they are hard, to grow the company. They lead with values and outline such with their teams and organizations right from the get go, so everyone is always on the same page. Game-ready business leaders ultimately win by making the right and courageous decisions.

Resiliency. Game-ready leaders rebound from disappointments, mistakes and missed opportunities and get right back in the game. They have a hardiness for enduring the downside of a situation. They remain optimistic in the face of adversity and quickly change when necessary. They resolve to make things better and are experts at figuring out ways to do more with fewer resources. “Everyone makes mistakes.”

Sportsmanship. Game-ready leaders exhibit sportsmanship. They don’t let the opponent know when he or she has gotten them down. Clearly we all experience disappointment, attacks from others, an occasional blow to the stomach. However, the behavior exhibited by game-ready leaders after losing or being attacked by others or the situation sets the tone for the rest of an organization. Additionally, top athletes support their teammates and their roles. If teammates start competing with and attacking one another, it is definitely difficult to win.

We all need these same markers of toughness to succeed and lead in today’s business environment. We cannot succeed on technical skill alone. Companies have tough questions and situations to address. Game-ready leaders go into today’s business environment with their best mental game and with the attitude of “Bring it on!” After all, who doesn’t love the challenge and fun of a demanding, complex game, Right? Bring it!

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