6 ways to build mental toughness in employees

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We hear the phrase “mental toughness” used a lot in sports, usually to refer to that athlete who exhibits a level of resolve and dedication that sets him or her apart from competitors. Lately, I’ve been exploring the concept of mental toughness in the business world, and how that attribute can be encouraged to cultivate dedicated teams at benefit brokerages, and any company looking to build a strong workforce.

People who have a mentally tough attitude frequently are leaders. Think of your best producers. They’ve risen to the tops of their professions through focus, perseverance, and by seizing the opportunity to lead when the situation calls for it. The leader of the business unit I support calls it “grit” and describes it as “mental fortitude [that] gets you through hard days, allows you to absorb and process feedback easier, and pushes you to uncomfortable places where you learn and grow.”

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Some employees may naturally have some of the ingredients of mental toughness, while others may need to practice in order to develop them. I think we all have some aspect of mental toughness, and it takes an adept manager to flesh it out and support it in teams that are pursuing a common goal. When employees are properly equipped to face obstacles, the road to success can be smoother and more fulfilling for all involved. That can sometimes mean encouraging the right behavior, offering the right training, or just stepping back and letting individuals and teams solve challenges on their own.

Cultivating the mentality
Here are six ways to help cultivate in your employees the attributes of mental toughness, such as confidence, collaboration, flexibility, assertiveness, maturity and positivity:

1) Provide resources: Providing employees with appropriate resources and management tools can help reaffirm their own decision-making skills and build confidence. Most employees are already comfortable with their work and don’t need to ask a lot of simple questions to get the job done. What they may need are resources to draw on when they encounter an obstacle so they can move past it and adjust the path forward.

2) Encourage collaboration: An employee’s ability to collaborate sheds light on how he or she manages tasks, responsibility and emotion in demanding situations. A group assignment requires employees to re-shape their own approach to the work in order to accomplish a team goal.

3) Respect assertiveness: Sometimes it’s difficult to disagree with your manager. It takes courage, but it also may show that the employee clearly understands the team’s goals and can manage complex projects. Let them. Sometimes a short-term distraction can threaten to delay a long-term objective. The worker who gets the team back on track knows how to prioritize. That attribute can be crucial when a difficult situation arises.

4) Nurture flexibility: No business is predictable, and employees who can embrace change may be more likely to succeed. They can think critically and know how to anticipate outcomes they may not have experienced. Somebody who can shift habits at a moment’s notice can be valuable in difficult — and fast-changing — business situations. Acknowledge this ability and consider offering such employees the opportunity to take on a stretch assignment that may enhance their career development.

5) Foster maturity: When a work crisis occurs, an employee who can take a step back and assess what really matters is a real asset. This person exhibits the maturity that can act as a calming presence for the rest of the organization in times that otherwise might be stressful. Making this person the leader of a group assignment may strengthen that skill and broaden the employee’s perspective. It may even lead to the employee becoming a viable candidate for succession planning.

6) Value positivity: A positive person can help turn a negative situation on its head. Perseverance is important, but a person who can overcome adversity while maintaining positivity is able to lead by example. Employees with this attribute are sheer gold. Value them.

Whether you define mental toughness as regulating emotion, displaying persistence or exhibiting a positive outlook, there are telling signs that leaders can watch for that will reveal whether a person is mentally tough. Building these attributes into an organization is a process of keen observation and mentorship. Do many people already exhibit these tendencies? Are they open to change? What can I do to help them? The answers to these questions, as well as other observations, can guide a manager to ensure that employees practice these habits and integrate them into the way they approach their work to help accomplish team goals.

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