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  Leadership, Resilience and Mental Toughness  

 Resilience is a construct that has many layers and contexts.  It is most commonly used to describe what happens following adversity or difficult circumstances. The phrase mental toughness is often associated with resilience and this may not initially sit comfortably as it  evokes a sense of being harsh . In many ways 'toughness' is still considered a  leadership trait which many would equate with a lack of empathy perhaps even unfeeling. Mental toughness is a different matter - a way of responding positively to setbacks - a maturity of character , some might argue.  Mental Toughness is best described as'  about being tough in the sense of developing resilience and confidence'  ( Resilience and Mental Toughness D Strycharczyk and P Clough ) Although resilience in my experience is definitely borne out of going through trials and difficulties, yet ,far from being hard and cold, mental toughness should bring a new freshness and approach to life. It is about humility and a realisation that we don't have to be perfect but rather need to be more flexible in our style and approach.

It's important to recognise that resilience in itself  is 'not a have or have not quality' (Carole Pemberton 2015 ) It's about behaviours, thoughts, and actions. Some people develop this thing called mental toughness and some don't. What distinguishes them - and why do we need to think about resilience in todays NHS ?  It is particularly relevant in todays fast changing NHS when roles and people are moving posts rapidly and people are reacting to many stressors - sometimes exhibiting poor behaviour and even bullying.  In times of uncertainty and ambiguity as in the NHS at the moment , it is vital for leaders to remain focused and flexible; to harness some of their own life experiences and remember what originally attracted them to working in the NHS. Rekindle the passion and in doing this refocus on what is important !

Resilient people are not necessarily the ones who are showing no emotion - they are the one who may be learning to harness their emotions in a different way; respond to challenges differently and to flex their own leadership style. Whitmore calls this the quality of agility - the ability to let go of old ways and behaviours and embrace the unknown. They are also  learning that time to relax and think is not just a good thing to do but is vital to building resilience and therefore seeing changes as an opportunity.

AQR ( www.aqr.co.uk) have identified four components

So what might you do to build resilience ? What helps?Who cares about what you are doing?

  • Have realistic goals for you and your team
  • Remember the rules of transition - communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Look at ways of giving back - supporting others
  • Surround yourself with supportive friends and colleagues - make connections and take time to build relationships
  • Accept that change is natural and that you will experience a mixture of emotions
  • Keep a sense of humour
  • Find time to think and reflect
  • Have a clear focus at work on priorities
  • Don't work late every night!! Take care of yourself!

Successful people are prepared to fail more, and they are more persistent than others.

What's your experience of  coming through tough times?

Sue Walters is an Executive Coach with an interest in Mental Toughness and resilience. She coaches women in middle to senior leadership roles who are wanting to progress to Board positions. She is a licence holder of the Mental Toughness Questionnaire( MTQ48) and an MBTI Practitioner .

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