Gut Check: Are You Mentally Tough Enough To Be A Great Leader?

February 2, 2015 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Are You Mentally Tough Enough To Be A Great Leader?I posted my very first blog on February 5, 2012, just a few hours before Super Bowl XLVI. In that game, New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady fell just short of winning the game and completing a perfect, undefeated season. It was a heartbreaking loss for a Patriots fan like me.

Last night, the Patriots were once again in the Super Bowl going for their fourth victory. This time, not only did the Patriots win, but Brady was named the game’s Most Valuable Player (his third time). The team won despite the distraction of the “deflategate” controversy.

After the game, when asked to describe the keys to his team’s victory, Brady said it was all about “mental toughness.”

The team struggled with inconsistent performance early on in the season. The critics started questioning the team’s ability to win, and in particular whether Brady, at 37, had lost his touch. But Brady and the Patriots persevered and were able to maintain the will to win to the very end.

Brady’s words jumped out at me because I’ve been paying more and more attention to this idea of the mental toughness of leaders.

Part of the interest is personal. In my executive leadership role at Knightsbridge, I find that my success (and that of my team) is increasingly a direct function of toughness and grit.

I also see this theme emerge in my work with clients. The great leaders I work with demonstrate real personal toughness. What I’ve also found is that the truly great leaders manage to instil that toughness in the people they lead.

The simple reality is that there are not enough tough leaders. It explains why my team and I spend more and more time helping leaders improve in this area through our coaching and leadership development programs.

It’s easy to understand why this topic is gaining so much attention. Being a leader isn’t easy today. You need to be able to endure constant pressure and scrutiny. When that pressure ramps up, you need to get tough rather than buckle.

So how do you start?

Shift Your View

In my book, The Leadership Contract I explain that the first step to building toughness is learning to see adversity as an opportunity to grow and develop as a leader. Many leaders fear adversity; great leaders welcome it as a chance to demonstrate their toughness.

Build Resilience

The second step is building resilience. I find this only happens when you deliberately push yourself to tackle things you instinctively avoid. There are some common ones: having the tough conversation; managing the poor performer; giving feedback or making a difficult or unpopular decision. If you continue to avoid these critical tasks, you weaken yourself and your organization. Like any muscle, resilience becomes stronger the harder you work it.

Develop Resolve

Finally you need to work on your resolve, which I describe as a deep conviction and will to succeed. When your back is against the wall, can you dig deep and lead your people to success?

All leaders will face more adversity and challenges, and we’ll need to build, as Brady refers to it, the “mental toughness” to succeed.

This week’s Gut Check asks: Are you mentally tough enough to be a great leader?


About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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