For Paul Lyons life was good. Ambition, the global recruitment business he had co-founded and was managing director of, was moving in new and exciting directions. Having restructured the senior management team, hired a global CEO and rethought the recruitment industry in general, the ASX listed business was well-positioned for a stable future, and Paul was excited, with others at the helm, to watch the evolution of the business he loved.
Then, suddenly and without warning, Paul found himself without a job. Made redundant by the company he founded, for the first time, there was no direction or guiding mission. He’d gone from 100km an hour to completely still, overnight.
Having hit rock bottom, Paul found himself looking for a solution, not only to his removal from the company but to the mental anguish, associated with feelings of not being valued. As with many people he searched the internet for similar circumstances and found some common phrases from people going through similar experiences –

– Resilience
– Confidence
– GRIT
– Perseverance

Paul became curious, of course, had been aware of these traits before, but noticed that the usefulness doesn’t only apply in extreme circumstances, but in daily life. In Paul’s industry, recruitment, he thought of top performers, and how even in the face of failure and frustration, they could remain resilient and ’just keep going.’ Perhaps it was simply a way to occupy his mind in the midst of such turmoil, but Paul’s research continued and culminated in his business Mental Toughness Partners.
I sat down with Paul to learn more. I’d always thought of mental toughness as an inherent personality trait.
“That’s correct,” said Paul. “But it’s what we call a ‘plastic trait,’ meaning it can be taught, and improved upon. Now, this isn’t some new age black magic – everything we do is founded in science. You see, we discovered that the traits of mental toughness which we boil down to resilience and confidence; resilience being the ability to survive a circumstance and confidence the ability to flourish, can be measured. Through this increased awareness, meaningful habitual change can be developed.”

Sounds interesting, but to me ‘toughness’ has me picturing bullies and aggressive types. I asked Paul whether this was a trait we should aspire to.

“It’s a good point and there can be a dark side to mental toughness if it’s not balanced with empathy. Our goal is not to make a bunch of robots that will disregard other people or their own feelings. This is about having the ability to maintain momentum even in dire circumstances. For example, and it’s a terrible example, but the death of a loved one – maintaining your ability to function as a human doesn’t change how you felt about that person, but it may help you and your family during the grieving process. Relating this to a less sombre circumstance, salespeople and senior executives are often put in situations where they experience rejection and even ridicule. If the way they respond to these stimuli is to shut down or to overthink and thereby reduce their capacity to respond effectively, they’re not going to be as successful. In fact, people that are mentally tough are far less likely to be bullies and domineering – people like that usually just act without evaluating the circumstance with a cool head.”

Paul works as a consultant to businesses both in mental toughness and other areas. What impact I wondered, did mental toughness have on organisations?

“Very often, people are sceptical when you start talking about mental toughness. Those who don’t see themselves as ‘tough’ tend to worry they won’t fit into a culture that rewards a trait like this. Ironically enough, it’s generally those people that have the most self-awareness and often the most resilience and confidence. An organisation that incorporates mental toughness into its ethos is neither loud and obnoxious, or aggressive. In fact, internally the culture tends to be quite subdued when people are put in a position where they can take control of stressful situations, it almost always leads to an improvement in non-stressful situations. Again, there are no magic pills or hooking anyone up to a device – this is about people improving at a sustainable level and within themselves. Any organisation that focuses on improving their employees will always end up better than beforehand. We use a specific mental toughness framework and related online psychometric measure, MTQ48, which can measure and develop mental toughness in individuals and organisations to improve performance and well-being.
The MTQ48 is valid and reliable as per the British Psychological Society and US Department of Labour and has been used since 2003 in organisations as varied as the military and emergency services , schools and universities , the sporting sector as well as the corporate sector in change, leadership and other situations. I would estimate that well over 95% of successful people are mentally tough . When I say successful, the traits of mental toughness become their own reward. These people have a higher level of motivation and well-being, they manage stress and anxiety better and they have the ability to perform at a higher standard for longer. It’s through people like this that mentally tough organisations develop.”

To learn more about mental toughness, and to take the MTQ 48 test to gauge your own mental toughness, visit mentaltoughness.partners