Category Archives: Confidence

How Much Can You (Mentally) Bench? Six Ways to Build Your Mental Toughness with Ron Howard

When discussing the characteristics of successful leaders, one trait is often overlooked. It’s not the need for charisma, confidence, or communication skills, we talking about those incessantly. No, it is the need for mental toughness. Famed filmmaker and actor Ron Howard discussed this undervalued attribute during a recent conversation on the podcast Off Camera with Sam Jones:

I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a Wall Street guy, and he’s always been a bond trader. He said that when he recruits young talent, they have to understand math, but he loves to get men and women who are athletes, highly competitive athletes. And I said, ‘Oh, it’s because you are trying to win, right? It’s kind of a zero sum thing.’ He said, ‘No, they know how to lose. They know how to lose and get back up and go, and go hard. No one reaches that caliber of athletic achievement without losing a helluva lot more than they win. And they learn how to cope with that.’ And I think if we’re doing this type of work and you want to make it your life’s work, you have to have that mental toughness or at least that understanding.

Mental toughness is the ability to respond resiliently to pressures, setbacks, adversities and challenges. It involves remaining emotionally steady and focused while continuing to make rational decisions under pressure. Like Ron Howard’s friend, mental toughness is often associated with athletes. After all, they spend a significant amount time in high-pressure, highly competitive situations, with arenas of onlookers and the objective to achieve a specific goal within a compressed period of time.

This unique atmosphere compels athletes to learn how to conquer fears and evade despondence in their quest for victory. For instance, a recent study examining professional baseball players found that players with greater mental toughness performed better in on-base plus slugging, a key performance metric that reflects a player’s ability to get on base and advance base runners (and is considered among the most predictive metrics of team wins). They also performed better under stress, kept their emotions in check, and were able to bounce back quicker when things did not go well.

Obviously, star athletes must have some innate, natural ability—coordination, physical flexibility, anatomical capacities—just as successful senior executives need to be able to think strategically and relate to people. But the real key to excellence in both sports and business is not the ability to swim fast or do quantitative analyses quickly in your head. Rather, it is [mindset] mental toughness.—Grant Jones, Sports Psychologist and former consultant to Olympic and world champions in seven games

This is not just applicable to the sports world. In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research shows that this skill set is more reliable than cognitive or technical skills when predicting success. If this sounds like an overstatement, consider the results of her study. Focusing on new cadets at West Point military academy, Duckworth examined the student’ high school rank, SAT scores, Leadership Potential Score, Physical Aptitude Exam, and Grit Scale (which measures perseverance and passion for long–term goals). What she found was that while intelligence, strength, and leadership potential were beneficial, those scoring highest on the Grit Scale were 60% more likely to successfully finish the initiation program than their peers.

These results were replicated in a number of other studies:

In the Journal of Managerial Psychology, researchers concluded, “mental toughness can be a significant indicator of potential for level of achievement and managerial position attained.”

A study in the Journal of Management found that leaders exhibiting mental toughness are more successful in obtaining their followers’ trust, respect, and buy-in. They are also more likely to be perceived as influential, while less resilient leaders who appear ambivalent or emotionally-unfulfilled are less likely to be seen as persuasive.

In a nationwide survey conducted by Price Pritchett where CEOs were asked to name the most important traits of their company, the top answers were staying power, can-do attitude, and resilience, all characteristics associated with mental toughness.

And good news! Research has found that mental toughness can be developed. Professional athletes regularly engage in training their psychological readiness. Jason Selk, author of Executive Toughness and director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals, coordinates daily “mental workouts” with players, including such practices as controlled breathing, visualizing a personal “highlight reel,” and imagining successes that are going to happen in the next game. You can also consider:

Practice self-control. To be mentally tough, we need to be able to manage our thinking and emotions. This means not allowing the business environment or the opinion of others to control our decision making. To do so, when experiencing pressure, immediately stop, take a few deep breaths, and assess the situation.

Be inner-driven. Mentally strong people harness their internal motivation so they can decide how/why to push themselves. They do not allow negative outside forces to hijack their thoughts and emotions.

Practice flexibility. Do you know why the Caribbean has so many palm trees? Because they bend in a hurricane. Just like the palm tree, success in our dynamic work environment depends on our readiness to adjust quickly. To remain mentally elastic, approach new situations with a creative mind, be aggressively curious, and be open to alternatives.

Seek challenges. You cannot become mentally tougher if you are not inserting yourself into situations that test your intellect, skill set, or ego.

Don’t be an expert. One trap of ambitious professionals is believing they’ve reached “expert status.” Experts fall into a routine; they see things a certain way and stop considering alternatives. Retain your probing, creative mindset and don’t let experience blind you from new possibilities.

Embrace uncertainty. Mental toughness is not synonymous with being all-knowing. But it does mean that we cannot allow ambiguity to cloud our judgment or spur panic. Think through the options and act on them. Avoid knee-jerk responses and keep your sights on the end-goal.

While we may not be able to compete with professional athlete on muscle strength, we are capable of being contenders in mental strength. Don’t let adversity thwart your confidence. Practice resilience so when the next challenge transpires, you can flex those skills and tough it out.

The Business Case for Workplace Friendship: 8 Reasons You Need It and 1 Way to Build Them Fast

In all the talk and research centered around company culture, one aspect is often ignored: The power of friends at work. I was thinking about this last week when I saw a preview for the new CHiPs movie.

If you’re unfamiliar with CHiPs, the source material for the movie was a delightfully cheesy 1970s-80s series about the California Highway Patrol. In one respect, it was about motorcycle police officers who solved crimes and cleaned up California. However, it was also a story about the brotherly love between two partners—Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada). Dax Shepard, who plays Jon Baker in the movie, echoed this in a recent interview:

I believe if you actually tried to isolate what was so appealing about the show, especially on a global level, it was two buddies.

As Jon and Ponch can attest (their record of arrests speaks for itself), there are many benefits to maintaining workplace friendships. Besides the opportunity to spend fifty-ish hours a week with people you actually like, research has proven time and again that strong social connections have both personal and business advantages.

A study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that quality (not quantity) friendships lead to significantly greater job satisfaction.

Research in Personnel Psychology found that employees with more “multiplex relationships” – colleagues you work with who are also your friends outside of work – have significantly better job performance. These bonds were associated with experiencing more positive work-related emotions, like feeling excited, proud, and trusting.

The Study of Adult Development at the Harvard Medical School, which is the longest-running study of human happiness, has consistently concluded that positive relationships result in happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives.

The latest Relationships @Work study found that millennials rely on their work friends to boost their moods with 39% reporting that friendships made them more productive and 50% saying that friendships were motivating.

Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their work.

In Matthew Lieberman’s book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, he discovered that with an economist’s mindset where you put a price tag on relationships, a friend you see on most days is like earning an additional $100,000 each year. That’s quite a value from a social connection.

Innovation psychologist Amantha Imber says, “Having a friend at work, or more broadly people that you trust and people that you feel will support you, is really important for boosting confidence and when you’re confident that can lead to all sorts of positive work outcomes.”

And executive coach and organizational psychologist Michelle Pizer states that having a genuine friend in the workplace “makes us feel safer to take risks” because we know someone has our back.

Once we understand that workplace friendships are more than simply a fun way to pass the day, the real question is how to build them. Some may say it takes months or even years, but who has that much time? We need friends and we need them now. Arthur Aron may have the answer.

Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University, has been studying ways to induce meaningful connections for nearly 50 years. Through his research, he uncovered how to foster closeness and break down emotional and social barriers in less than 45 minutes…and it’s easier than you may think.

In one experiment, participants were split into two groups and then partnered up. In the first group, the partners asked each other casual, impersonal questions. The second group wasn’t allowed to engage in any conversation suggestive of small talk. Instead, they asked questions like, “Given the choice to invite anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”

As you may have guessed, participants who asked deep, evocative questions felt significantly closer to one another than those engaged in small talk. People in the second group also reported greater interest in collaborating with their partner on future projects. In addition, when these results were replicated in another study, they found that a key factor in determining whether mere workplace acquaintances would transcend into actual friends involved self-disclosure around non-workplace topics and the more they shared, the closer they became.

Workplaces that convert their employees’ untenable ties into the durable bonds shared by fast friends will have cultures and communities that are alive and generative—in one word, thriving. As denizens of these communities, we will be doing something even more powerful than bringing our lives and souls with us to work: We will be sharing them with friends.—Jessica Amortegui

Who’s your Ponch? Who is your friend at work? This is not a trick question; it’s a challenge. Whether you’re in the elevator or grabbing coffee in the break room, quit your small talk. Ask real questions and disclose real information. This may feel unnatural at first, but if Arthur Aron’s research is correct, you could form the beginnings of a new friendship by mid-week. Who knows, maybe you two can go see CHiPs together in the theater.

Have a Fear of Losing? Self-Esteem Won’t Help, You Need Self-Compassion

What motivates you to pursue success? I’m not referring to money or fame; those are the products of success. What I’m asking is when you set your sights on a new challenge, what thought is going through your head?

On a recent episode of Pod Save America, they were discussing the inner dialogue of an unsuccessful presidential campaign—oversights, skewed approaches, why the candidate’s popularity seems to increase after losing. In regards to Hilary Clinton, one concept I found fascinating is the idea that her campaign and pre-election persona were too restrained and prudent. According to co-host Jon Favreau, this is not a new diagnosis after a failed run for the top office.

They said it about John Kerry after his concession speech. They said it about Mitt Romney after his concession speech. They said it about Al Gore after his concession speech. They said it about John McCain after his concession speech. There is a certain brand of politicians who are too cautious during a campaign and are less cautious after the campaign is over, and that is because they run with an overwhelming fear of losing. And that fear of losing makes them more cautious and calculated.

How many leaders are hampered by their fear of losing? Instead of operating from a position of confidence or positivity, they are focused on not screwing up. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more you fixate on the negative outcome, the more likely they are to come to fruition. So how can we stop ‘not losing’ and concentrate on ‘winning’?

We are frequently taught that success stems from self-esteem. Unfortunately, self-esteem is situational. It is linked to social comparisons, unrealistic expectations, and arbitrary self-assessments. In truth, research shows that self-esteem does not cause success; it is the result of success. Therefore, to start thinking like a winner, we need to replace our aspirations for self-esteem with aspirations of self-compassion.
Unlike self-esteem which is concerned with how you evaluate yourself, self-compassion is about how you treat yourself. This has three aspects. First, self-compassion means caring for one’s self with the same benevolence, care, and consideration that you treat those you care about. Being driven, results-focused individuals, we tend to set idealistically high goals and bet ourselves up when we fall short. Hence, we need to practice more self-kindness.

Second, it entails recognition that all people are imperfect. Often when we fail, our initial response is that something has gone wrong, that this shouldn’t be happening. We have this flawed view that everyone else is living a struggle-free life. With self-compassion we can alter how we relate to failure and difficulty by turning “poor me,” into “I’m not the only one.”

Finally, self-compassion involves mindfulness, a willingness to acknowledge our suffering. This may seem counter to a “winning” mindset, but denying the pain does not mean you aren’t feeling it. Maintain an accurate reading of your emotions so you can deal with them and move on.

Kristin Neff, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, fi
rst proposed the concept of self-compassion in 2003. Since then, her research has shown that self-compassion is significantly associated with every indicator of psychological well-being.

Self-compassion yields greater emotional stability, resilience, life satisfaction, and a more optimistic perspective. The self-compassionate respond more adaptively to negative events with less pessimism, cynicism and self-critical thoughts and experience fewer negative emotions. And they experience lower amounts of stress, anxiety, and guilt.

Remember that fear of losing? Well self-compassion has also been found to enhance motivation. When people with greater self-compassion fail, they are less afraid of failure. In one study, after participants failed a test, they were coached to be more self-compassionate. Later, when they had the opportunity re-take the test, they studied longer than people who were not told to be self-compassionate.

Self-compassion filters how we respond to setbacks, thereby freeing us up to take risks and remain true to our convictions. Without the burden of hypercritical thoughts we can stop focusing on reducing distress and instead manage the actual issue.

And good news! We can learn to be more self-compassionate. Studies have found that even brief exercises instructing people to think about a problem in a self-compassionate manner have positive effects.

Step 1: Identify instances in which you are not being nice to yourself. Does your internal monologue tend to be negative? Are you punishing yourself when things don’t go your way?

Step 2: Determine why you are so self-callous. Do you think being hard on yourself is motivating? And if so, how badly do you need to feel in order be motivated? While negative thoughts can help us to manage behaviors, those with low self-compassion make themselves feel much worse than needed. Recognize when your sentiments cross from constructive into destructive.

Step 3: Stop it. When bad things happen, remind yourself that everyone fails, is rejected, humiliated, or experiences a multitude of other less-than-desirable happenings. Practice some self-kindness by being nice to yourself. Don’t lower the bar, but don’t beat yourself up when trying to reach it either.

Have a fear of losing? Stop trying to build self-esteem and start developing your self-compassion. Unlike the self-admiration of self-esteem, self-compassion does not depend on viewing yourself positively or even liking yourself. It is not contingent on failing or succeeding. And it won’t diminish when you experience a low point. So be compassionate to yourself so you can concentrate on winning, not avoiding catastrophe.

Nine Ways to Be a More Assertive Leader with Logan/Wolverine

When I’m asked about core leadership traits, of course I mention ethics and communication and all the other basic competencies of anyone striving to make it in a company (or society-at-large). However, successful leaders have a characteristic that sets them apart from the masses—they are assertive.

Assertiveness is your ability to demonstrate healthy confidence, to be direct and honest. It is not aggression or seeking dominance over others, but simultaneously standing up for yourself while respecting other people’s rights. It’s like Wolverine from the X-Men movies and Logan.

Wolverine conducts himself with quiet self-assurance. He says what he thinks, speaks up when something bothers him, and has no problem making his opinions known. Sure, some will say he’s the very definition of aggression with his proclivity to destroy and his hair-trigger temper, but these bouts typically occur when he’s provoked, not because he seeks them out. No, Wolverine is assertive. Thankfully we don’t need his retractable claws, indestructible skeleton, or regenerative abilities to follow suit. Just try these nine suggestions.

Display confidence. If you want to be seen as assertive, consider your posture, tone, and general persona. Speak clearly. Stand up straight. Make eye contact. Don’t fidget. And walk with purpose.

Be direct. Assertiveness and brevity go hand in hand. No need for elaborate explanations, keep your requests simple, straightforward, and respectful.

Take responsibility. If you are waiting for other people to solve your problems, you might be confusing passiveness with assertiveness. If an aspect of your life needs to change, own it and do something about it.

And take responsibility. Being assertive means being accountable for the consequences of your actions. Take your lumps, learn from them, move on.

Say no. Unless you agree with every request, you need to exert some assertiveness by saying no. Be courteous, but be firm.

Stop apologizing. Too often, “nice” people feel guilty for asserting their needs and wants. Unless you’re nearing diva territory, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t apologize; just be polite and appreciative.

Don’t be pressured into justifying your views. When people are uncomfortable, they often try to defend or rationalize their decisions. Be able to explain your opinions without feeling compelled to make excuses for them.

Say what you think. No one knows what is on your mind unless you tell them. If you need something, say it. If you have a problem, speak up.

Be patient. Learning to become more assertive takes time and practice… so keep practicing.

Is Substance for Suckers? One More Leadership Lesson from Donald Trump

Back in August, I wrote an article on leadership lessons from Donald Trump. At the time, the GOP Convention was about to begin at which time Trump would officially become the Republican presidential nominee. While I was not thrilled with the thought of a Trump presidency, I was able to provide a few research-supported leadership techniques utilized by Trump that can be beneficial to anyone in or aspiring towards a leadership position.

Such techniques as repeating key words, maintaining a strong vocal presence, and creating a common enemy have earned Trump the highest position in the USA. It doesn’t matter that he has no actual plan to make America great again. Or that his twitter account is filled with nonsensical tirades. Or that he consistently contradicts every statement he makes (often within the same speech). Trump won, and he did so by connecting with the crowd.

Ah, the crowd—that nameless, faceless group of supposed likeminded people. If you’ve read James Surowiecki’s popular book Wisdom of Crowds you may think the populace is smarter than the individual (and since Trump lost the popular vote there may be merit in this argument). I, however, continue to side more towards Gustave Le Bon’s classic 1895 study The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

In his research, social psychologist Le Bon discusses the attributes of those who successfully lead crowds. First, he describes them as “more frequently men of action than thinkers.” They “are not gifted with keen foresight” but that’s considered to be a good thing since it prevents them from expressing doubt and inactivity. Confidence is king and these leaders display it in droves.

Next, crowd-based leaders are able to stir an arousal of faith through ideals pertaining to religion, politics, or societal ideas. Their intensity of faith gives power of suggestion to their words and, according to Le Bon, influences “men gathered in a crowd [to] lose all force of will, and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality they lack.”

The great events of history have been brought about by obscure believers, who have had little beyond their faith in their favour.—Gustave Le Bon

The final attribute is simplicity. Leaders of crowds deliver boiled-down concepts presented in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner. Context is distracting, as is an overreliance on details.

Notice that these three attributes do not include expertise, know-how, or anything resembling substance. They are all predicated on how a leader presents himself—confidence trumps foresight, faith in the institution trumps strategy, and simplicity trumps intellectual discourse.

There was a recent study in Industrial and Labor Relations Review stating, “the benefit of having a highly competent boss is easily the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction.” Sure, you may believe employees are far happier when their leader has a deep technical expertise in the core activity of the business, but let’s get real. We had a presidential nominee with more technical expertise than any other candidate in the history of the country, and she did not win.

If you decide to model Trump, stop combing through your morals, beliefs, and worldviews to formulate an ideology. Don’t waste your time building expertise to become an individual of substance. To be a leader in the vein of our new President, all you need is a brand… and that brand is winning. Display an air of self-assurance. Commit to a sentiment, not any one belief. Then deliver it in one-word declarations.

In the end, I’m still betting on competence. And though I am interested in how emulating Trump’s leadership style pans out for you, you may first want to wait and see how it works for the United States.