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Leadership & Mental Toughness


Leadership & Mental Toughness

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified,

During my recent Bikram Yoga class, the yogi stated that stress doesn’t really exist. He said that the sensation of stress is something we allow to happen when we are not controlling our thoughts. Further, the disciplined mind controls what we think. The disciplined mind also controls how we act and what behaviors we exhibit. In sum, we are in control…..always. If we feel stress, it is because we choose to let outside influences dictate our thoughts, reactions, and eventual behaviors.

Leaders sometimes lose sight of just how much control they have over situations. Every situation. Likewise, it is all too common for team members to take on a victim mentality and believe they have no control. This is a great opportunity for leaders to inspire their people and help them understand how to own their performance. Effective leaders create a culture in which team members are empowered to make decisions, make mistakes, elevate performance, and think.

Leaders, seek to embrace the following four areas regarding increasing your mental toughness, and helping your people to take positive control of their work world.

1. Focus on the Right Priorities. Leaders today must possess the ability to cut through the noise associated with an increasingly fast-paced world that is connected 24/7, 365. Streamline the priorities of your organization to better mesh with the pragmatic bandwidth of your team. Sure, it’s easy to make a list of a thousand things that will elevate the performance of your team and organization. However, skillful leaders understand that success is about results, not the scope of the undertaking! If you and/or your team have more than six major priorities right now, the odds are good that people are overwhelmed and unsatisfactory results are being delivered. Look in the mirror. Be realistic about your team’s bandwidth and the timeframes with which you are dealing. Pare down your priorities to six and help your team focus. Also, help people craft meaningful action plans to achieve those priorities.

2. The Rigid Three. Having a rigid schedule for certain activities can build mental toughness. A commitment to specific activities causes us to fight through hurdles, head trash and procrastination that might otherwise undermine a positive experience. The first of the three areas in which I challenge you to be rigid is your personal exercise regime. Do you know a Marine? Pretty fit bunch. Rigid fitness schedule. Mentally tough as nails. They tend to accomplish a lot. Just saying. The second area is a personal aspect of your life. It may be family time, volunteer time, church or a spiritual commitment. You choose, but make certain it is part of your regular schedule. The third area is one element of work. It may be planning your day in a certain way. It may be scheduled time for MBWA (managing by wandering around). I know several leaders who take a nap every day from 1pm-2pm. They are highly effective and refreshed leaders. Whatever work item you choose, concentrate, schedule, and stick to your guns. By creating and adhering to The Rigid Three you will elevate your mental toughness and increase the respect you receive from your team.

3. Be Mindful of Decision Fatigue. All leaders experience decision fatigue to a greater or lesser extent. In sum, as the day goes on our ability to make crisp decisions diminishes. Leaders can better handle decision fatigue by arranging their day strategically, eating healthy, hydrating and getting enough sleep. The positive results of crushing decision fatigue include, but are not limited to making better and more timely decisions, creating additional time so that you can coach others, increasing team productivity, improving sales results, and positioning yourself as a decisive leader who can help others make sound decisions.

4. Think Positive, Praise Positive. Henry Ford famously said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” As his quote implies, we are what we think. And you know what? You are awesome! Think of yourself as awesome today, and every day. Put your head in the right place, and everything else will follow suit. Let’s face it, we live on a rock that is blasting through space – we are all miracles. Oh, and help your people know that they are awesome too. They may or may not choose to believe you, or to believe in themselves. That is their deal. Control what you can control, leaders. In the process, catch people doing something right and praise the heck out of it.

Bottom Line: The best leaders and top-performing team members understand that they are in control of their performance. They understand that the kind of thoughts they put in their heads will drive their behavior. For more on mental toughness and the head games that athletes (and leaders) play, check out the new book by Alex Hutchinson, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. And call Doug Van Dyke who will assist you and your team in achieving previously unimagined results. Be awesome today everyone. You have the power to make it so.

Until next time, be well.

Doug Van Dyke is a Certified Speaking Professional, Executive Coach, Leadership Development Expert, CEO of Leadership Simplified. He takes yoga classes on occasion and really connects with his inner Qi. Connect with Doug at or visit

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