We’ve been talking a lot lately about mental toughness in athletes; what it is and how to spot it. While some people are more naturally inclined to possess the traits that suggest mental toughness, it’s also a skill that can be developed. Not everyone needs to be a North Carolina point guard to understand mental toughness or learn how to leverage those qualities in their professional careers, you can also cultivate mental toughness on your own teams.

Applying mental toughness to the workplace

Before approaching a strategy for mental toughness, you should consider what it means to value mental toughness in the workplace. Why should you prioritize building these skills in your team if they aren’t naturally inclined to do so on their own? If these are skills typically associated with athletics, how can they apply to the workplace?

As it turns out, there’s a lot of commonality between the traits that make a successful athlete and a successful employee. Just as successful athletes excel at balancing the demands of training, travel, and competition while still maintaining focus and confidence, mentally tough employees will be better at coping with a stressful work environment, i.e., deadlines, demanding clients, cross-departmental responsibilities, etc. The result is a teammate who is reliable and whose work remains consistent, regardless of circumstance.
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Additionally, these employees are more likely to bounce back from rejection. How often have you heard an athlete speak about their failure as motivation for improvement? Michael Jordan famously cited his failure to make his high school basketball team as the impetus for becoming the greatest basketball player in the world. The more willing and able an employee is to accept his or her failures and learn from them, the more they will take ownership of improvement and maintain the confidence and energy required to improve and overcome.

How do you develop mental toughness?

It’s a misconception that these skills exist innately and that you either have it or you don’t. There’s a number of tactics you can employ that can develop these skills and help you coach resilience and confidence into your employees, even if they don’t believe they have it within themselves. So, how do you do that? There are a few easy places to start:

1. Reframe the context

The struggle doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. A good athlete knows that every obstacle helps them get stronger and better at what they do. The same goes in the workplace. Is someone on your team struggling in their role or up against a particularly difficult project? Make sure they know that these aren’t roadblocks, they’re opportunities. They can work through the problem, learn from the challenges, and apply it moving forward. There’s a lesson in everything.

2. Communicate Often

Make sure your team knows there is an open line of communication. When they come across obstacles, encourage them to talk it through. Maybe that involves getting advice from their manager or brainstorming with a colleague who can coach them. Conversely, if you spot a team member in the weeds, make it clear to them that you’re available to help. Communication is a two-way street.

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3. Set Goals

Give your employees something to strive for. Often, when people are presented with a challenge, they can rise to the occasion. By encouraging them to reach just beyond their comfort zone and watching them achieve their goals one-by-one, you’re instilling a sense of confidence, ownership, and autonomy. You don’t always have to incentivize growth with a bonus or title, sometimes just demonstrating trust in their skills is incentive enough.

4. Build Trust

Creating a supportive relationship between management and employees is critical to building mental toughness. When your employees know that you have their back, they won’t get discouraged when the going gets rough. Having a support system helps maintain unfaltering confidence in their abilities that will carry them through to the finish line without negatively impacting their quality of work.

By fostering a supportive, communicative environment that rewards employees for putting in the hard work rather than punishing them when things get difficult, you’ll soon start to see the evidence of mental toughness growing from within your team, and you won’t need to hire the entire Duke basketball team to do so.

For more on mental toughness, download our latest whitepaper today.