Tag Archives: Buy In

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.

Weekender: Ted Melfi on the Need to Stop Talking

theodore-melfiWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a blip of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a blip? Because it’s the weekend!

Ever find yourself being too involved? It is common for leaders to justify their leaderly role through instructions, lectures, and ideas. Some are necessary; others are a prolonged filibuster that help you feel important but squashes needed participation. Next time you feel this urge, maybe consider the advice of Ted Melfi, writer and director of the hit movie St. Vincent.

At one point, I’m sitting there and I had a scene with Bill Murray, Melissa McCartney, Naomi Watts, everyone, and you look at this and you go, ‘I have no idea what I can even say to anyone.’ So the best thing to do is to not pretend you have something to say, right? The worst thing is to go up and say, ‘Listen to this, here’s what the scene’s about.’ And Bill would look at you if you said that and say, ‘I read the scene. I know what the f–king scene’s about.’ So if you aren’t having something to be helpful with, what’s the point? You have the best actors in the world, shut up.

Don’t feel the need to talk just because you have the power to make others pay attention. If you have the right people on your team, display your power by sitting back and letting them voice their opinions. Speak up if the conversation goes off course, you have some information the team needs, or if there’s a lack of needed dissent, but avoid making yourself the center of attention.

In the end, your ability to facilitate the conversation (versus owning the conversation), will increase your influence, enhance the problem solving skills of those on your team, and generate more buy-in. You may feel withdrawal from the lack of a spotlight, but the results will make up for it.

Adele on Building Hype

adeleOver the last few weeks, Adele has overtaken the music industry. This was after taking a three-year break, at which time Adele surprised her fans with a 30-second snippet of her new song “Hello” before releasing the video a week later. One month later, 25 was on sale and has since become the biggest-selling album of 2015.

Did it happen through raw talent, of which she has plenty, or is a portion of her success attributable to how she views overexposure, overly extended promotions, and hype in general? In an interview with Time, Adele said:

I’m not throwing shade at anybody, but when you have a six-month build up, don’t expect me to be there the day your album comes out, because I’m bored.

She went on to discuss artists who release music without immediately following it up with an album:

It doesn’t matter how amazing [the album] is. You put seven songs out. I’ve heard the album. I’ve heard everything you want to say about it. I’ve heard it all over radio. Don’t expect me to not lose interest before it’s even happened.

In reading Adele’s views on building excitement, how many leaders are equipped with the insights to launch a “hype campaign”? Think about it. We are tasked with launching a vision and goals that engage those on our team. To accomplish this, we exert significant mental strain in the development stage but then undercut the communication phase. The result is a beautiful, well-crafted set of goals that no one cares about, believes in, and/or is aware of.

To build your next hype campaign, consider the following three tips.

Get Informal Leaders On-Board. Before your product launches, you need the support and buy-in of your top thought leaders, the people who influence and guide your culture. Get these individuals engaged early. Your idea does not have to be fully formed to get them on your side. Discuss your intentions and seek their feedback. And as you get closer to launch, keep them in the loop.

Turn Your Launch into an Event. If you are debuting a project that is important to you and the organization, don’t rely on a memo or a mass email. Get personally involved and make it special. For some, “special” is a box of doughnuts on the outside lunching area; for others, you may need something with more pizzazz. Either way, make it stand out to stress that this is not some run-of-the-mill initiative.

Draw out Suspense for a Short Period of Time. To build hype, people need to look forward to whatever it is you are launching, and they cannot do this if they are not aware that something is being launched. Let people know that something is on its way. Don’t drag out the mystery for too long, but it may help to leak a few details or discuss the problem that you are trying to solve.

Adele-25Based on the mega-success of Adele’s recent album, her outlook on hype is worth studying. Don’t rely on how great your product/idea is. Avoid over-exposure. Prepare your launch purposefully, with detailed precision. Include a few surprises. And, if done right, there will be no need to set fire to the rain.