Leadership and mental resilience

Mental toughness is a buzzword in learning and development (L&D), but what exactly does it mean? Peter Clough, Chair in Applied Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, begins to explain 


Mental toughness is a concept that is often misquoted or used in conversation but never put into practice. First, we need to understand what mental toughness is. It’s not about being tough. Rather, it’s about developing resilience and confidence.

We developed a model for mental toughness and found that people who display characteristics of mental toughness prosper within the world of work. Data shows that they are generally successful, achieving results and high ranking positions within organisations. They tend to be driven, competitive and ambitious – but not aggressive or domineering.  A mentally tough person is someone who is comfortable in their own skin, they take what comes in their stride and enjoy the challenge. Mental toughness is a core skill to have at hand when dealing with challenge and change in the working environment.

These signs of success can be spotted relatively early on – research shows mentally tough students excel better and develop a portfolio of skills that will allow them to maximise their potential and allow them to compete in the job market.

These skills are desired by employers, as exampled by the recent CBI comments relating to the need for ‘character’ in graduates.

But how can businesses assess mental toughness and develop it among staff? Psychometric measures such as MTQ48 enables users to assess mental toughness, taking into account four factors: control, commitment, challenge and confidence.

Employees who aren’t mentally tough are not considered weak. Instead they tend to display characteristics of being sensitive. It is important to understand that in our model of toughness, the opposite of toughness is not weakness, it is sensitivity. Sensitive people have many skills and attitudes that are highly desirable – but it is clear they may often find transitions and assessments more difficult.

Businesses need to recognise these qualities in staff when considering the make-up of their organisation. Does a business need staff who are predominantly mentally tough or would a balance of both tough and sensitive types better suit their requirements?

The ratio of mentally tough and sensitive people varies, from one business to another. Generally speaking, you do need a broad range of personality types within a workplace to ensure a diverse approach to activity and decision making.

When looking at how best to nurture these two types of employees, it’s worth considering that mentally tough people learn from their failures. They move on fairly swiftly from any hiccups and do not let it hinder their approach or their performance. While not emotionally sensitive, mentally tough people are emotionally intelligent. This means they recognise characteristics in their colleagues and know how to respond to them. Mentally tough people generally proposer in stressful situations. Sensitive people, on the other hand, tend to thrive on success…

Peter Clough is an academic in applied psychology. He is delivering a keynote conference session at the World of Learning: ‘Does your organisation have determination and drive? How to cultivate ‘mental toughness.’

The World of Learning Conference takes place 29th-30th September at Birmingham’s NEC

Find out more here: www.learnevents.com.                                      


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