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Mental Toughness in Organizations

Would you wish to do a ‘mental toughness’ course? Odds are that most executives will say “no!”. However, in a trusted setting, what response will the same manager give you when discussing the following work-based issues: being calm in times of stress, being more disciplined about the focus of their attention, balancing the demands of apparently conflicting goal-demands, feeling comfortable and positive about feedback, mental adaptation to stay ‘high-performing’ when there are inherent frustrations and pitfalls designed into the procedural and political deficiences of all medium and large organisations.

Now, there is a raised opportunity for engagement and a commitment to learning!

Desired Thinking Patterns

Mental Toughness interventions are all designed to attend to the underlying weaknesses in the issues described above. Expressed positively we are therefore looking to raise both awareness and the ability to use the following thinking patterns:

  • Reframing for positive psychological states
  • Visualization and the experiencing of future-desired psychological (performance) states in the present
  • Acknowledging successess (learning from learning)
  • Being comfortable and productive with all feedback
  • Recognition of stress thoughts and behaviours and interupt-patterns to negate stress-effects on performance (and wellbeing)
  • Thoughtful and acceptable process for maintaining focus where needed in spite of the emotional factors present in competing demands for attention
  • Thoughtful and acceptable process for balancing effort on goals, especially where there are conflicting issues.

Corporate outcomes are enhanced where individual and group mental toughness is enhanced. The journey is not always easy and without doubt, some executives are more amenable to ‘thinking smart’ technologies than others. An individual’s attitudes to personal change, their flexibility and their responses to external ideas will give you early clues to their chance of enhancing their mental toughness.

What interventions are sensible to make the changes that will manifest in the above thinking patterns and what are the behaviours that will result for the organization?

Resulting Behaviours & Performance

The above thinking patterns will produce noticable change in behaviour/performance. The organization should be able to notice and measure (before AND after please) the following:

  • Calm and rational in times of stress
  • Flexible and creative when need/solutions are urgent
  • Increased pragmatism
  • Greater self-confidence in stress situations
  • Reliable and consistent within any work-context and situation
  • More willing to take on stretch-goals
  • More focussed and less inclined to be fire-fighting when the fire is over
  • More efficient and requiring less time to achieve with the same managerial workload
  • Dealing with feedback with demonstrated changes of behaviour/performance where these are in the interests of the organization.

Interventions for Raising Mental Toughness

When we look at the above list, we can see that elements of applied NLP (neuro-linguistic Programming) will be useful. NLP Exercises such as second and third-positioning, anchoring and identifying certain meta-programs would help improve positive outlook/attitude and their management of psychological state (link these comments with Emotional Intelligence and ‘self-managing’ if you will). For that reason also, EI can be a useful methodology particularly where the training includes (and emphasizes) feedback. Feedback is the fast-track to personal development including both ‘self-managing’ and ‘managing others’.

A stress-awareness and intervention programme can contribute. These can include the experiences of psychological and behavioural methodologies for stress-management – NLP anchoring can also make a major impact with stress-management. The philosopher Vikto Frenkl said that the we have the capacity to choose our mental state but many executives have no concept or experience of this. For example, in stressed environments within the NHS, we found about two-thirds of (middle to senior) staff in training cohorts were ignorant (and sometimes cynical) about ‘managing psychological state’. Within half-an-hour, these could have had their first ever experience of managing state and the freedom from circumstance-driven stress that they had lived with until that moment! – in fact, some became disciples of state-management within the NHS!

Prioritization strategies and goal-management models may also help executives to manage goal-related issues at work if well-designed.

Does coaching fit in? Yes, coaching supports and enhances learning of all soft-skills at work. What we at AMA can offer is a focussed approach to ‘Mental Toughness’ that will look to the specific thinking and managing outcomes listed above. We can offer all elements of L&D intervention to support Mental Toughness. Do talk to Angus McLeod at AMA if you wish to enhance your L&D plan.