Mental Toughness
January 5, 2022

Why developing Mental Toughness should be a must for data leaders

By Paul Laughlin

So many leaders learn & research will attest that mental toughness matters for analysts & data leaders. Organisations have learnt that attitude is one of the biggest predictors of performance in role. But fewer realise that psychological research has identified a robust model of the Mental Toughness that underpins a winning attitude.

I recently completed reading “Developing Mental Toughness“. The latest 3rd edition of this book from Profs Doug Strycharczyjk, Peter Clough & John Perry. Regular readers will know I have previously praised their psychometric tool for measuring overall leadership capability (the Integrated Leadership Model). This book explores another of their psychometric models, the Mental Toughness model.

Before reading this book, following my review of their chapter in “Psychometrics in Coaching“, I assumed this was a niche model. One focussed on leaders struggling to handle stress or with specific issues where they need to be tougher. This book helped open my eyes to the much wider applicability of this model. I would now recommend it for all analysts & especially data or analytics leaders. In this post I will share how this book could also open your eyes to the need to understand & develop your mental toughness.

Laying the foundations for a robust understanding

This comprehensive book includes 24 chapters in what feel like 5 parts due to their focus. In order these are:

  • Background & academic foundation for this model
  • Explanation of MTQ (Mental Toughness Questionnaire) tools & each metric within
  • Applicability of MTQ model to other measures & work/education/sport
  • Well being & exploring how MT can be developed (inc via coaching)
  • 5 mental tools that can help you develop MT

The closing chapter then summarises key themes from the book & looks to the future. Excitingly the authors foresee greater use of apps & wearables as means of tracking & developing MT. Apps making use of the ability to gamify the development of greater control & positive thinking. Wearable making use of developments in the ability for devices like smart watches to measure stress levels via skin/sweat.

Starting with a focus on academic foundations and thew long history of an interest in mental toughness (back to the Stoics) works well. Although I feared this would at times become to academically focussed, it stayed at the persuasive level. For those who are interested there are plenty of references and you get an idea of how the work of many have contributed to progress in this field.

Understanding the MTQ48 model

At the heart of this book is the introduction to the MTQ48 model. The authors briefly explain the different details available through 3 levels of psychometric tool available from AQR International. As I am currently also completing their certification training (to use this tool with my clients) this was familiar to me. But it is a helpfully brief introduction for others.

The following chapters explain the quadrants of this model & the two parts of each. Once you get your head around these you can see the broader applicability of this model to personal development. Leaders and managers will recognise so many of these topics as common issues when addressing attitude in others & self. Here are the components of their model:

  1. Control (Life Control & Emotional Control)
  2. Commitment (Goal Orientation & Achievement Orientation)
  3. Challenge (Risk Orientation & Learning Orientation)
  4. Confidence (Confidence in Abilities, Learning Orientation)

It is important to also explain that the opposite of Mental Toughness is not weakness but Mental Sensitivity. Plus, although there is plenty of evidence as to the benefits of MT & impact on performance it is not all good. There are risks of blindspots & negative impact on others. Like any strength that can be overdone (shadow side). Plus, there are some benefits to Mental Sensitivity & being high on MT is not for every personality type. What matters most is self awareness & being enabled to choose. This book empowers you with both.

Developing Mental Toughness in the real world

Too many psychology and coaching books can stay in the theoretical or at least an idealistic view of the world and changes that can be achieved. The final 3 parts of this book help avoid that pitfall. The chapters on the applicability of this model to the worlds of work, sport & education reveal how much the authors are also practitioners. They can cite many useful examples of where such a focus has helped with diverse past clients.

Before going on to share some simple practical tools, the authors also make a case for both the link between MT and mental/physical wellbeing & that MT can be developed. As a professional coach & mentor myself, I found the chapter on using MT with coaching & mentoring very useful. The authors structure their suggested areas of focus around Whitmore’s famous GROW model. As I found when reading a great introduction to Psychosynthesis Coaching, this is a helpful way to explain how a coaching process could be helped.

Sharing simple practical tools that everyone can practice also provides a helpfully experiential end to this book. Through a combination of mental exercises you can try immediately & sharing resources to explore further, they explore 5 topics. This book is worth reading for these tips alone. I recommend you explore which might help you develop your mental toughness this year:

  • Positive Thinking & Mindfulness exercises
  • Visualisation exercises
  • Anxiety Control & Relaxation exercises
  • Attention Control exercises
  • Goal-setting tools

How could you benefit from developing your Mental Toughness

First, I recommend this book to all mentors or coaches. It will open your eyes to his much mental toughness underpins much other work with clients. For my part, I have been convinced to become a certified practitioner to help my clients.

For data & analytics leaders, I recommend you take some time out to consider this topic (and perhaps also buy this book). Raising your own awareness of your Mental Toughness can help both you & personal development plan work with your team. Perhaps take that time now to consider which of the 8 part might be more relevant for you.

Building on this book review, I’d love to hear your experience with Mental Toughness. Do you have a story to share about how it has helped or when more was needed? Do you have other resources that have helped you develop such MT? Either way, it would be great to hear your experience & encourage our community to focus on this topic.