Can You Handle the Heat? A Mental Toughness Test

Pressure tests our self-confidence and mental discipline.

Life is good on the job when predictable conditions give us a clear path for showcasing our talents. That’s when we’re convinced we have what it takes for our next step.

Unfortunately, the unpredictable is also predicable. Are you ready for it? Do you know how you’ll handle the heat?

Rings of fire 

No job is immune from surprises that test you. On any day and at any time, things can go up in smoke and your job will be to find your way through the flames.

Disruption emerges from:

  • Your boss and coworkers
  • Customers, clients, and vendors
  • Performance reports and financials
  • Software glitches and system failures
  • Policy and procedure errors
  • Communications breakdowns and stymied negotiations
  • New regulation and legal decisions
  • Marketplace competition and under-performing products

We can either crumble or rise to the occasion when things go wrong. In either case, everyone will be watching.

Gut it out 

Great models for developing mental toughness are athletes in individual sports, like golf and tennis. It’s always the player against the opponent and the conditions. To succeed, one will contend with adversity better than the other.

These athletes live by routines which become a kind of rhythm of play. It’s how they tap into muscle memory and keep their visualization patterns humming.

Golfers and tennis players are frequently disrupted by:

  • Weather delays, causing them to stop, wait, and restart
  • Crowd noise during play or reactions unsupportive of them
  • Persistent or sudden injuries
  • Excessive heat, cold, wind, or rain
  • Disrespect or gamesmanship from their opponents

There are hundreds of examples where certain athletes blow leads, implode, or even retire from play because disruptions overcome them.

Our mind can either weaken or strengthen us during adversity. We just need to know which one we want it to be when it’s our time to be challenged.

Assess your mental toughness 

When the heat’s on, how do you react? If you answer “yes” to any of the following, consider taking the next steps in parens.

  1. “I get stressed out and lose concentration when I’m told my project is due by noon instead of the end of the workday.” (Clear out all other distractions, defer other tasks, avoid interruptions, and focus only on the project.)
  2. “When my boss gives me negative feedback, I lose motivation.” (Think about the contributing factors in the feedback; develop and implement a plan to change what you’ve been doing.)
  3. “When I’m accountable for a team result, I micro-manage to avoid things going wrong.” (Stay away from the details, refocus on the big picture, provide support and cheerlead.)
  4. “In a conflict situation, I usually back off.” (Ask questions to understand the issue; request time to think about what you’ve heard; come to terms with your position; and set a time to meet again to resolve.)
  5. “If I make a mistake, I’m reluctant to try again.” (Learn from each mistake and commit to trying again as soon as possible. Ask for feedback. Work at the fix until you’ve mastered it.)
  6. “When a problem arises, I wait for a coworker or my boss to take the lead.” (Commit to taking the reins, especially when you have the expertise.)
  7. “If I get a poor rating on a performance factor, it takes me weeks to get over it.” (Reset your performance goal for that factor to meet expectations. Commit to immediate actions to turn the rating around.) 

Action is the marker 

Mental toughness is the outgrowth of committed action. It demonstrates your willingness to keep pressing forward, drawing on your capabilities, and being averse to quitting no matter how difficult the challenge.

You have to act to build and increase mental toughness. Each step you take increases your self-confidence and your business fitness.

Mental toughness builds on itself but it takes your efforts to get the ball rolling. Once you do, everyone will take notice and your career will benefit.

Photo from Ben Sutherland via Flickr

Employee Coaching: Reality or Just Talk? | A Wake-up Call

Careers are about growth. The better we become, the more options we’ll have. 

We expect our career growth to follow these steps: 

  • Take jobs that align with our skills and knowledge
  • Complete training on processes and technical requirements
  • Apply learned skills and knowledge
  • Implement performance feedback
  • Repeat these steps 

This is the “science” of career growth, but that’s only half of it. 

It’s the art of doing your job well that delivers lasting success. 

Training programs teach job mechanics and requirements for representative situations handled by “typical” employees who aren’t you. 

Your success is influenced by your work ethic, communications skills, interpersonal behaviors, values, and personality. These are your art. 

We need coaching 

Our supervisors (coaches) arrange our training to make sure we know how to play (do our work). While we’re in the game (our jobs), they watch to see how we do. As we play, they support, correct, encourage, reinforce, and direct. That’s coaching at work in an ideal world. 

Alas, the pity! In the real world, supervisors aren’t doing much employee coaching, using excuses like: 

  • It’s too time-consuming (or not worth the time).
  • Employees are uncomfortable with my individual attention.
  • I don’t have the skills (or the patience) to coach, so I’ll do more harm than good. 

It’s time to wake up and do what needs to be done. 

Without coaching, there’s floundering. 

The pace of our professional growth is a function of the amount and quality of coaching we receive. 

Employee productivity and morale flat-lines when we don’t grow. Supervisors with stagnant employees will deal eventually with eroding performance.  

Unbeknownst to some supervisors, it’s the employee who does the work associated with the coaching. The supervisor as coach provides support, encouragement, and direction in areas where employees aren’t performing “artfully.” The employee transfers the direction on how to improve from his/her “coach” to the job. 

Everyone wins when supervisors coach. 

Be systematic. 

Keep your coaching process simple, focusing on what the employee needs to do better to move forward. Remember: You’re coaching for career growth. 

Start by focusing initially on no more than 3 employees. 

  1. Schedule individual meetings and ask each employee to bring a list of 3 possible areas for coaching. Prepare your own list of three.
  2. Start by asking the employee  to share his/her list and the reasons behind the choices. Follow with your list and reasons.
  3. Agree on which areas will be addressed.
  4. Ask the employee what specific actions s/he will take to improve.
  5. Ask what kind of coaching support s/he will need from you. Agree on what’s reasonable.
  6. Identify how you will both know if there is improvement—measures, observations, feedback from others
  7. Establish a timetable for meetings (Put the employee in charge of scheduling and running future meetings.) 

If the employee is not committed to his/her own growth, then your coaching time is better invested in someone else. So don’t chase after employees showing no initiative. 

Even as you’re coaching these employees for growth, you’re still providing performance feedback, formally and informally, to all employees, intervening when there are performance problems. There’s no rest for the weary! But it’s all good.

Recognize achievement 

The best part of coaching is seeing the growth. By recognizing the employee’s successful efforts, you: 

  • Build self-confidence and sustain motivation to continue to grow
  • Encourage others to want to be coached
  • Start to build a culture of peer coaching and self-developing teams 

Recognition can be a hand-written note from you, a gift card, or a formal celebration with his/her team, depending on conditions. 

Make coaching a reality 

A lot of organizations give lip-service to coaching. Employees know when they’re being sold a bill of goods. If employees are told the company believes in coaching for growth, then deliver. 

I bet you’ve coached a child on how to tie his/her shoes or a friend on how to use a social media widget. Coaching isn’t rocket science; it’s support, direction, encouragement, and guidance. Not only can you do this, it’s your obligation. Done well, it becomes part of your legacy.

So please give coaching for employee growth your best effort. It’s personally satisfying and very good business.