If you have  an unshakable self-belief in your skills and ability to achieve goals deliver a consistent performance, have an insatiable desire and inner drive to succeed. You’ll most likely also feel a passion for the ‘game’, have an ability to remain fully focussed and the ability to switch focus on and off as required.

Further, you will have the benefit of a confident, positive, optimistic outlook, a determination to stick to a game plan. Calmness, patience and confidence will come easily to you but you’ll also have an ability to thrive on competitive pressure, an ability to rebound from setbacks and losses with increased determination. And maybe even a desire to push the limits of physical and emotional pain.

These ‘abilities’ are based on the latest thinking as regards ‘Mental Toughness’. They are summarised by having the following group of characteristics:

1) Confidence (belief in one’s ability to perform under pressure)

2) Constancy (an unchanging commitment in completing tasks)

3) Control (the power over others and their actions, keeping emotions under control, remaining calm and relaxed under pressured situations)

4) Determination (strong intention to achieve even under difficult conditions)

5) Self belief (belief in one’s approach and a consideration that it’s the correct one)

6) Visualization (to have an image in one’s mind of what one wants to achieve)

7) Positive cognition (promoting a positive mental state and behaviour)

So far, so obvious? Well what happens when these attributes are measured? What conclusions can be drawn? And is there a way, consequently, to improve mental strength, and the various areas that have been identified? Worked on to the extent that one gains a positive impact on work performance.

Working with a good friend of mine Rainer Weiser (Doctor of Chiropractic) of C3 Chiropractic in Cardiff, I set about measuring the mental toughness of the ‘Sales Team’ at the radio station. And not only the Sellers, but the Creatives (Com Prod) and the Admin support people and a team of ‘functional specialists’ we call ‘Traffic’. The Traffic team are office based and work exclusively on running the electronic computerised advertising logs for the groups radio stations. As close to ‘proper’ work as you will get in a radio station. It was a fascinating experiment. Conducted with the aid of Rainer and a couple of specifically designed surveys (PPI-A and SMTQ questionnaires) he made sure we had formal statistical validation of the results, it was a pretty rigorous exercise.

You’ll immediately see two results that stand out. Firstly the overall scores in each area are very high. You might expect that from an experienced highly trained, established and successful sales team. But you might not expect to see the green ‘Admin’ team scoring highest of all, in all bar one area.

Closer investigation reveals a few other interesting insights.

Sales people first then: Interestingly, the lowest score was for ‘control’. I think this tells me that these guys feel that there are a lot of things they deal with that are out of their control. Things such as the economy, the ability to make appointments and so on.

Their highest scores are more predictable: Determination and constancy. They are highly driven people, capable of staying the course, despite perceived hardships. And it seems a typical response for people in this role – the beginnings of a mental toughness profile?

Self belief, Positive Cognition, Visualisation and Confidence all score strongly, at around 75% though perhaps not as strongly as one might expect? Adding to my personal observation that sales people are as much a product of their neuroses as everyone else is, they require constant support in a difficult environment. Is this evidence of erosion of mental toughness due to the job they actually do? (In relation to their scores in those other areas)

Although having said that, Admin aside, Sales seems the overall toughest group?

Let’s talk about that Admin group then. Firstly, a smaller sample, and the group contains an ex soldier and two single mums and a highly trained analyst. Not surprisingly then, they scored highest of all. It’s also worth pointing out that these guys have the least amount of contact with clients, and therefore get positive and nurturing feedback from the team they support to offset the criticism support staff often face in the instance of errors and other ‘clerical’ issues. 

I think it’s also fair to conclude that these guys have to deal with a less fulfilling job, in comparison to the high flyers in the department, in terms of significantly lower pay and levels of recognition. They also have to deal with diva-ish behaviours on a daily basis, as anyone with an experience of sales teams will attest to. In that context, perhaps we have unwittingly (in terms of mental toughness) hired exactly the right people to ‘cope’ with the job. Or at least the people who survive and thrive in the job are mentally tough.

The traffic team are functional specialists, and as such, the highest scores for them are the ones that you’d guess at, Constancy, as in their consistent approach to their work and Control. The very definition of their department is one of control, as they literally ‘traffic’ the adverts and where they are broadcast. Contact outside of the group is limited to internal clients once again, but these guys often bear the brunt of broadcasting errors and campaign issues that they will actually have no fault for. In other words, sales people regularly complain to these guys about ads going out incorrectly and campaigns that don’t work. Given their ‘pay grade’ that’s a pretty heavy responsibility.

The lowest over all scores (But again, relatively high in everyday terms) are the creatives. Very interestingly, Visualisation and Confidence were their joint lowest scores, with Positive cognition and Control being joint highest. Is this about not having a clear picture in their minds of where they want to go, but being sure of how to do the job? All are very experienced in role? And they certainly feel like they are able to influence what they achieve – they are just less sure what it is they want to achieve in the first place.

Also, it’s clear that these people need the most reassurance, due to the relatively low Confidence and Self Belief scores – An attribute inherent in people who write for a living and are therefore mercilessly critiqued on a daily basis?

All in all completely fascinating, and really I was left with as many answers as I was questions. It was clear that the recruitment policies we follow are resulting in the appointment of ‘healthy’ individuals, capable of thriving in a high stress target driven commercial environment. Given that the scores were over all above average.

The main unresolved question however, is whether we are creating these strengths in the teams through training and specific support for specific functions, or are we taking naturally strong individuals and wearing them down, as one might consider the scores to indicate?

I guess the only way to tell would be to re score the same people in a years time and see what changes were apparent. Would they be stronger where training is provided, or weaker still giving the pressures of the job?

What do you think? Leave a comment in the box below, or on the Facebook page and share your personal experience of mental toughness.

NB – To give my friend Rainer his full credit and titles he is: Dr. Rainer Weiser Doctor of Chiropractic, GCC REGISTERED CHIROPRACTOR MSc, BSc (Chiro), DC, FCC, CCEP, ICSSD, Dip Physiotherapy (Munich)

  1. mrsmoti
    mrsmoti says:

    What an interesting study – and I love how you emphasize the effect of everyday interaction on people – it often gets overlooked and may be the most important influence on mood and performance..

    And as for those dratted creatives…well, better to be ‘mercilessly critiqued on a daily basis’ than totally ignored, eh?

    This is unique content from what I’ve seen on the web – a boss actually applying psychology in real-life and conveying back his findings.

    It’s just splendid and thank-you.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      And once again I have you to thank for ‘flushing it out’ (still not sure about that phrase!) You’re right about the everyday interaction too

      I feel like everything we try to do with the team, developmentally or even from a performance or expectation perspective has to be balanced with the content of the environment

      In our case that will be the current market conditions and the make up of the team for instance

      I feel like its a bit like conducting a symphony orchestra on occasion.

      Look out for the follow up!

  2. miamccarthybrewer
    miamccarthybrewer says:

    This was a great experiment, and as one of the guinea pigs in the sales team it gave me a great insight.

    The positive was a 100% score in visualisation, but then with only 48% for control, it something that I have focussed on as a development need.

    When I fully accepted that I am in control of my performance against target, I achieved a consistency that I had previously struggled with.

    Great experience and would love to see if things have changed since last year.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      I think its well worth repeating, especially given the conditions of the last trading year versus the teams performance the previous year.

      I’d have a theory that this last year will have had an impact, given the perceived difficulties of the economy etc. it would be EXTREMELY interesting to see if that showed up in our measures?

  3. quintascentuelle
    quintascentuelle says:

    Thanks so much for this article. This level of enlightened leadership is, I believe, very uncommon, particularly in the field of sales. It encompasses several academic disciplines too, putting a ‘real world’ perspective on HR, Management and Business theories.and I think, has real potential for being developed further as a model for addressing employee engagement.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thank you, thats great input! The work Rainer particularly was doing was ground breaking I think, as he initially trailed it in high performance sport. We then took the same ideas to Sales and business generally. As you mentioned, Ive read about ths stuff, but never seen anyone work with it in real life. Fascinating exercise, and we got terrific engagement from the participants too. See Mia’s comment on this very thread.

      • quintascentuelle
        quintascentuelle says:

        Truly valuable knowledge transfer, and as I set the world to rights the other day with an ex-colleague, your experiment came to mind as did the topic of employabilty skills. My conclusion was that in an ideal world, the annual employee appraisal system adopted by some concientious larger firms would bring significantly greater value to both the employee and the employer were elements of your experiment to be included. We have health MOTs, car MOTs, and a regular career MOT might well reduce job burnout, increase personal effectiveness and also profitability. As Mia’s thread says, it sounds very inspiring and useful.

  4. Tony Dowling
    Tony Dowling says:

    what an interesting idea! in terms of certain roles, it might even be useful as part of candidate assessment

    Given the relative complexity of the measurement and the checking and double checking, we’d probably need to develop a ‘portable’ framework to make it really useable, but I’m going to have a think about that. thanks!