Tag Archives: Flexibility

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.

Was Luke Skywalker the First Millennial? Embrace This Generation to Avoid the Dark Side

Luke Skywalker1It’s Star Wars Week at leadersayswhat and I could not be more excited. I’ve had my ticket to Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3-D for weeks (thanks Paul!) and am ready to celebrate on this glorious opening weekend. To spark the [leadership] Force within each of us, all of this week’s posts will focus on the greatness that is Star Wars.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away lived a twenty-something named Luke Skywalker. He worked on his Uncle and Aunt’s farm but was in a hurry to join the rebel alliance to help defeat the evil Empire—high aspirations for a kid with little experience. Ultimately, it worked out for Luke; however, we are left to wonder whether his Millennial-esque attributes impeded his potential or was a driving force in his success.

Luke Skywalker was part of the Millennial generation before there was a Millennial generation—he made his theatrical debut before Millennials were born, plus he did live a long, long time ago. As the first member of this esteemed generational group, Luke displayed the expectations, priorities and career ambitions of what us Earthings deem as people born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Notorious for their impatience, Luke expected frequent feedback, rapid career progression, and a wide range of career experiences.

Luke didn’t have the patience to listen to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s sage advice or complete Yoda’s Jedi training, yet he impulsively jumped into the action with a limited grasp of his Jedi abilities, no experience piloting an X-wing fighter, and a complete lack of understanding into the political complexities of dismantling a galaxy-wide tyrannical government. Contrary to previous generations like those of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, who were satisfied with a structured hierarchy and patiently worked their way up from Youngling to Padawan to Jedi Knight, Luke and Millennials alike presume that they should be heard and expect an expedited career trajectory. This may feel like a stereotype for an entire generation, but research does show that:

  • Nearly half of Millennials expect to be promoted regardless of their length of employment.
  • 25% of Millennials expect to be promoted at least every two years.
  • 47% of Millennials believe their generation lacks patience with established processes.

An extensive study by Richard Sweeney from New Jersey Institute of Technology supporting these findings stating that:

Millennials, by their own admission, have no tolerance for delays… They require almost constant feedback to know how they are progressing. Their worst nightmare is when they are delayed, required to wait in line, or have to deal with some other unproductive process. Their desire for speed and efficiency cannot be over estimated.

Luke Skywalker yodaIf you aren’t a Millennial, it is easy to judge these attributes as a sign of society going to the dark side with seemingly impetuous, overeager decisions replacing the ‘tried and true’ ways we were taught. However, Millennials observed the challenges of their parents and learned to adapt by obtaining more transferable skills and diversifying their skill set by holding a variety of different jobs and career paths. Throw in their comfort, adaptability, and skill with technology and you can see how impatience can be a strength.

As the leader, you have a choice: you can stop hiring until the post-Millennial generation joins the workforce, or you can adapt. One manager I’ve worked with felt that adaptation meant that she “lost” and they “won.” I, however, see adapting as something we should always be doing anyway. Every generation (heck, every individual) has different needs. It is our responsibility to tap into these stimuli so we can inspire and motivate.

The accommodations we need to make for Millennials do not lower your expectations; the changes are more attitudinal. Consider a few of the following:

  • Increase flexibility around working hours
  • Set clear targets and provide frequent feedback
  • Create multiple paths and timeframes for individuals to grow their skills and reach leadership positions
  • Provide clarity on role expectations, progress, pay, and benefits to support a transparent culture
  • Satisfy Millennials’ entrepreneurial attitudes by delegating projects they can start and run on their own
  • Relax outdated etiquette rules so as to allow staff to “be themselves”

Embolden the Luke Skywalkers in your workplace. They do not want to wait for the opportunity to make an impact so harness their eagerness through various opportunities for growth and advancement. Be more forceful than Yoda when they try to skip out of training and are not yet ready to be on their own, but remain supportive with a clear framework of what they must first learn. Luke’s Millennial-like impatience saved Princess Leia from being tortured, Han Solo from remaining frozen in carbonite, and ultimately took down the Empire. Those on your team may not be as fortunate as to be from a powerful Jedi lineage, but you can help unlock their potential by becoming their Obi Wan.

Seth Rogen on Flexibility

A common mistake amongst leaders is that in the midst of a project, they become rigid. That’s when Seth Rogen can step in to remind us of how important it is to remain flexible.

When writing his latest movie, Neighbors, Seth Rogen and his writing partner changed the plot of the movie with only three weeks before filming was to begin. They changed the entire focus of the movie because they were not satisfied. When asked why, Seth stated, “We really try to make it where it gets to the point where we can stand behind everything in it with 100 percent confidence. We’ve tried to punch every hole into it that we can. If it holds up, it holds water, as we always say.”

Leaders need to set the same high standards…and most do. The problem is that many get caught up in an idea or have lost sight of the goal. Others get so fixated on the deadline that they willingly cut corners. Either way, their success is hampered by an inability to change course.

The script becomes an ever-evolving thing. You can’t be afraid of making big-idea changes…Once an idea seems good, then you have to do it, and that’s what we do. Or, once an idea seems bad, you have to fix it. – Seth Rogen

According to Bill McBean’s new book, The Facts of Business Life, there are essentially five characteristics of great leaders, flexibility being the first. According to Bill, “leaders have to be able to change course; that is, first make sure their businesses will survive, and then find a new way to reach their goals.”

Not everything goes as planned. Priorities may change or someone on the team can have an epiphany that will potentially improve the output. As the leader, you need to be open to these ideas. It can be stressful to change the direction of a project at the last minute, but Seth Rogen stands behind every movie with 100% confidence. Can you make the same declaration about your work?