Getting to the Heart of Mental Toughness

I was all set to write about Olympians and the leadership lessons we can learn from them, when I read Wally Bock’s latest blog post entitled “4 Reasons Why Being a Boss is not an Olympic Event” Any of you who have been wise enough to read Wally’s stuff will know that he makes good sense just about all of the time…okay, all of the time then.

Having said that, and in spite of the rash of comparisons which will inevitably be made to Olympian behaviour in articles everywhere, I feel somehow compelled to use the Olympics as a springboard for some observations of my own. So, ready or not, here goes.

I think that Olympic athletes exhibit certain attributes that good leaders everywhere share. Often the sum of these qualities is tied up in a neat little package and labeled mental toughness, a phrase that is often open to interpretation.

But if I were to open the Mental Toughness package, I would hope for it to contain something like:

The courage of Nobunari Oda, a figure skater who successfully executed seven triple jumps, faltered when his bootlace unraveled; stopped his program to fix the lace; and then went back to finish in spite of knowing he had lost any hope of winning a medal.

The focus and determination of Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir who began skating together when they were small children and today,hold a vision of the future that has kept them working together ever since.

The motivation of Alexandre Bilodeau who was inspired by his brother to not complain when the going got rough; believe in himself; and simply do his best.

The strength of Joannie Rochette, whose mother died of a sudden heart attack only a few days before her scheduled competition in the Women’s figure skating program and who has chosen to finish what she set out to do and compete anyway.

These examples are illustrations that mental toughness is as much about heart as anything else.

However you interpret mental toughness, to me, without heart it is incomplete.  Without heart it becomes something different, stubbornness perhaps or hard headedness, maybe even ruthlessness.

I think this is where the leadership lesson lies.  Leaders, like Olympians, cannot afford to disconnect their heads from their hearts.  They are inextricably entwined and those who attempt to keep them apart put themselves at risk, as well as those who place their trust in the leadership they provide.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove – a tough mind and a tender heart”

I think he was right.

Who do you think of when you hear the phrase mental toughness?



Filed under Leadership Values, motivating & Inspiring, Self Knowledge, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Getting to the Heart of Mental Toughness

  1. Ginny

    As always I enjoyed your article, and agree whole heartily with you and Martin Luther King Jr.

  2. Gwyn Teatro

    Thanks for coming by Ginny! So glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

    • salesdujour

      Thomas Edison, Vince Lombardi, General Patton, my father-in-law, the late Colonel James C. Rike who flew gliders behind enemy lines in WWII, flew in the Korean war, raised 9 cjildren and was married to his one true love for over forty years until he died.

      But number one hero is my wife, who has stayed with me through the thickest and thinnest of times.

      • Gwyn Teatro

        Hi Gary,

        You have highlighted something that is truly important to acknowledge about mental toughness. We all have the capacity for it, not just the celebrated heroes or elite athletes among us.
        As you so rightly point out, those who stick with it through hard times and continue to believe and work toward something better are very tough…and full of heart.
        Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

  3. Those are great and inspiring examples of mental toughness, Gwyn. And mental toughness and resilience is key to top performance in any field.

    As for making sense “all of the time,” we both know better. And if there is doubt, there are great clouds of children, friends and co-workers who will be happy to point to times when making sense looked like something I was trying to avoid. I do appreciate the compliment, however overstated, though. Thank you.

  4. Gwyn Teatro

    Thanks for coming by, Wally and for your comments.

    Okay, I’ll take the red “S” off your chest and place you back among we mortals again but when it comes to knowing how to be a good boss, you have never failed to make good sense to me. 🙂

  5. You have given me something important to ponder about. I will remember mental toughness in every challenges that I will face. 🙂

  6. Gwyn Teatro

    Hi Walter,

    Thank you for comments and for letting me know that what I have written will be of some service to you. For me, that is what the writing is all about! 🙂

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