Leadership & Mental Toughness

Some writers include resilience within mental toughness while others see mental toughness as resilience + or even resilience ++! Resilience and mental toughness are obviously not the same thing but they are at the same time not completely different.

Personally I work with the model associated with the MTQ48, which incorporates many of the above elements into a 4C model; I’m more than willing to accept that there may be in reality more than 4C’s and even other letters – but the 4C model seems to work and I am a great believer in keeping things “short & simple”.

The 4 C’s are, Challenge, Commitment, Control, and Confidence:

Challenge is about willingness to seek challenge – move outside one’s comfort zone, take risks, face the unknown, etc. Some people see challenges, variety, problems & changes as opportunities – others see these as threats.

Commitment is about achieving the challenges undertaken – changing strategy, taking different approaches adopting different tactics, etc. Some people like working to clear measured goals & targets – others are more easily distracted or bored.

Control is about feeling to be in control of one’s life – having the feeling of impact, keeping anxieties under control, making conscious decisions, etc. Some people feel in control and have influence – others feel that things happen to them & they have little control.

Confidence is about believing in oneself – being assertive, openness to others, believing one’s abilities, etc. Some people have the self-belief to successfully complete tasks – others will be unsettled by setbacks & give in.

The 4 C’s approach provides, at least for me, both a quantifiable description of mental toughness and clear areas to work on to become mentally tougher.

So, are the 4 C’s relevant to leadership?

If there is no challenge there is no need for leadership; leadership is about taking people on a journey to somewhere that is significantly different from today. Leadership is not just about taking on challenges, it also about achieving them, being truly committed to the vision. Leaders are in control of themselves (they are aware of their dark side) and they know where they are going – they are not going somewhere by chance, they have made a conscious decision. Having confidence in others (as well as oneself) is essential in developing the relationships to deal with difficult people.

So, all-in-all mental toughness looks like a good thing and something we should have. According to research by Clough, we all, in fact, have a “certain amount” of mental toughness; some of us have a lot, some have a little and many have an “average” mental toughness – in fact, his research shows that the “spread” of mental toughness follows a normal distribution curve.

How much mental toughness do we need? As for as leadership goes it sounds like the more we have the more likely we are to bounce back and succeed in our leadership challenges.

This leads me to the final question: Can we have too much mental toughness? I’ve yet to read any research that says too much mental toughness is a dangerous thing but I do have an inkling that there are limits; thinking that we can take on the world and win every time, that we are invincible, have all the answers, have no need for others, etc. sounds like a dangerous thing – makes me think of the terminator kind of leader: unstoppable, walks through walls, feels no pain, impervious to others, etc.

I guess I ought to stop here before the article turns into a book – which is not my intention.

Bob Larcher
Bob Larcherhttp://www.boblarcher.com/
Bob Larcher is an independent leadership development consultant; he has been designing & delivering personal, team & leadership development programs for almost 35 years, both in English and in French and his clients include Blue Chip corporate giants, Charities, Start-ups, and the Public Sector. Bob is also a visiting lecturer at several French Business Schools. Since his first leadership seminar in 1986, Bob has designed and delivered in excess of 3000 days of training & coaching. His background is in Outdoor Management Development and he was previously a shareholder of a major player in the UK market; he is an Accredited Practitioner of the UK Institute of Outdoor Learning and a member of the panel reviewing articles for their journal, “Horizons”. He is based in Toulouse in France but works all over Europe. Bob is an accredited Insights Discovery Personal Profile user, an accredited Integrated Leadership Measure user and a Master Trainer in Mental Toughness. He also designs customized 360° leadership & management evaluations Bob is passionate about helping people to discover, develop and deploy their leadership capacity in order to enable them to drive the personal, organizational and societal transformations they are involved in.


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Maureen Nowicki
Maureen Nowicki

Your article is excellent, Bob. I agree with your 4 C’s and would add that to embody mental toughness in leadership a possible fifth “C” could be weaved into your list. I feel from my own experience leading teams that having “caring” in the lines of keeping the work and the people in mind while having your own boundaries and self-knowledge is another factor to ponder.

Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler

Well stated, Bob. As I was reading your piece, I was waiting for “but I do have an inkling that there are limits; thinking that we can take on the world and win every time.” One of the assessments I use in my coaching practice measures and predicts sixteen leadership qualities, “persistence” being one of them. Again as you say, persistence “and mental toughness are obviously not the same thing but they are at the same time not completely different.” To wit: mental toughness allows one to persist. But like everything else, too much persistence may be an unwelcome behavior in some situations. For example: A leader has to know when to pull the plug on a strategy that isn’t achieving desired results. A leader has to know when to step back and evaluate a change effort that seems to be going nowhere. A leader has to release an underperforming staff member who doesn’t respond to coaching and training.

Larry Tyler
Larry Tyler

I enjoyed the mental toughness part a lot. I feel the leadership word is the most overused word I know. That being said you wrote a great article and a powerful message



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