Is Mental Toughness important?

Mental Toughness has been around for a number of years and is frequently used in the world of sport.  But in an organisational context – what is it and how much do we really know about it?

Mental Toughness is about an employee’s ability to deal with pressure / stress that they encounter on an day-to-day basis at work.  It is a quality that some people have, and others need to develop, which will enable them to continue to perform well during times of difficulty.

But why is being mentally tough important?  Evidence demonstrates that those with high levels of mental toughness:

  • perform better than their colleagues
  • have the drive and tenancity to see goals through to their completion.
  • have a “can-do” attitude
  • continually strive to optimise their potential
  • are more employable that those with less mental toughness
  • are more content in their lives and have better overall wellbeing

 A number of studies based in educational establishments have demonstrated that those students who have higher levels of mental toughness are less likely to “drop-out” and more likely to achieve higher grades.   There’s no reason why these outcomes cannot be applied to the workplace: lower staff turnover and higher productivity.

An assessment of an individual’s mental toughness can provide insight on their capacity to deal with stressful situations, which can be used in recruitment, restructuring or as part of someone’s personal development.   Those with low mental toughness can recieve coaching to help them develop strategies and tactics to help them (and their organisation) to perform when under pressure. 

The downside is that there is a danger of being “too mentally tough”.  Those who demonstrate extreme mental toughness are considered to be insenstive: they will achieve their goals and aspirations at the expense of their colleagues.  They may be considered a bully by the behaviour they demonstrate. The ideal scenario is an individual who can achieve that balance of performing well under pressure, but still able to display empathy.

As we enter a difficult period of transition in the public sector, the ability to be mentally tough will become more and more important.   And I suspect, more organisations are going to want to measure how mentally tough their staff actually are.   In a timely fashion, a  new psychometric test (MTQ48) has just come onto the market that measures mental toughness. 

If you want to know more about the MTQ48 and how it can be applied in your organisation, please contact me for more information.


Are ice-breakers naff?

At the start of any training event, it’s likely that the participants will have to engage in an ice-breaker. Many of us (me included) dread it: we don’t want to be embarrassed or made to stand out of the crowd by saying or doing something stupid.

With this in mind, when I’m designing training courses or small workshops, I think long and hard about how to ease the participants into the session.

Last year I read Nancy Kline’s Time to Think, which had a profound impact on me. Subsequently I wrote a book review, which you can read the book review here or here (HSJ).

The reason I only gave Nancy’s book four stars is that, whilst I liked what she was saying  (enough to put some of it into practice) I didn’t truly believe in the magic that she was describing.

Nancy starts every meeting by asking the attendees to do two things:  
a) state one thing that they did last week which made them feel proud of themselves.


b) turning to the person on the left, to say one thing that you really respect them for.

Everybody gets to speak twice before the meeting has even begun.  For the first 10 minutes, every comment made is a positive one. The impact?  There is a dynamic shift in the room. Everybody feels relaxed, upbeat, positive and willing to contribute.

Last week I was working with a team that has had some difficult few years, has just recently has turned the corner and is on the road to recovery.  We started with this ice-breaker, and by the time we finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  Not  because they were sad, but because of the overwhelming emotions they were feeling. They all liked each other already, just nobody had expressed it before. And they liked what they heard.

It was magical. Just like Nancy said it would be.

Going back to the start, I believe that on the whole ice-breakers are naff.  Why do trainers and facilitators like to torture us by making participants behave like animals – literally?  And what purpose do these particular interventions serve?

From my point of view, there’s no reason why we can’t strive to find respectful and effective ice-breakers like the one I’ve described above.    Those trainers who don’t just let our industry down.

Is Good Customer Service Essential or Desirable?

I was quite distressed by an event that happened earlier this week. An event that could have been avoided by good customer service. My husband and I subsequently started to debate about whether it is appropriate to expect front-line member of staff to have basic customer service skills.

My view, having recruited a huge number of customer service reps for mobile phone companies along with having commissioned a significant number of skills development courses is that everybody is capable of demonstrating good customer service.  It doesn’t matter what you’re paid or your capabilities.  If it doesn’t come naturally, you can be taught how to provide good customer service.

My husband took the opposite view.  He felt my expectations of a member of staff involved in the incident this week were too high, as they are “only” a junior member of staff. Sensing that I was taking this argument personally, he let me win (this time), but I still feel passionately about this subject and hence this post.

In essence, when a member of staff encounters an angry customer  their approach should be:

1) Identify why the customer is angry;

2) Apologise (irrespective);

3) Determine what the customer would like to see as an outcome;

4) Establish next steps to either resolve the issue or alleviate the concern / worry / anxiety of the customer.

For me, this isn’t hard sums. What I do question is why some people think it’s acceptable that staff working in the NHS or the education sector can be excused from having the same level of customer service skills than those you find  in more commercial sectors?  I don’t believe that it’s desirable.  I think it’s essential that all our front-line staff have this essential skill.

What is coaching? 10 definitions

I’m on a quest to understand the nature of coaching.  This week I’m going to bring you an array of coaching definitions that I discovered along the way.   

But before I do, I wanted to highlight that my research has uncovered a huge number of different definitions;  and they vary between “regular” coaching, coaching psychology, co-active coaching (an a-theoretical model!); and executive coaching.   I believe the following is symptomatic of an unregulated industry.  What is heart-warming is that there is some commonalities between the definitions – and perhaps suggests that at some point in the future, the profession can attempt to bring some uniformity and standardisation to the “wild west” of coaching.

 10 Definitions of Coaching

  1. “Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (Whitmore 2003)
  2. “A collaborative, solution focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and person growth of the coachee”  (Grant 1999, basic definition also referred to by the Association for Coaching, 2005).
  3. “A professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual or team that support the achievement of extra-ordinary results, based on goals set by the individual or team “(ICF, 2005)
  4.  “The art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another” (Downey, 2003)
  5.  “Coaching is directly concenred with the immediate improvement of performance and development of skills by a form of tutoring or instruction”  (Parsloe, 1995).
  6. “Coaching psychology is for enhancing well-being and performance in personal life and work domains underpinned by models of coaching grounded in established adult and child learning or psychological approaches” (Special Group of Coaching Psychologists, part of the British Psychological Society)
  7. “Coaching is about developing a person’s skills and knowledge so that their job performance improves, hopefully leading to the achievement of organisational objectives. It targets high performance and improvement at work, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s private life. It usually lasts for a short period and focuses on specific skills and goals.” (CIPD 2009)
  8. “Psychological skills and methods are employed in a one-on-one relationship to help someone become a more effective manager or leader.  These skills are typically applied to a specific present-moment work-related issues….in a way that enable this client to incorporate them into his or her permanent management or leadership repertoire” (Peltier 2010)
  9. [Co-active] coaching is “a powerful alliance designed to forward and enhance a life-long process of human learning, effectiveness and fulfilment”  Whitworth et al (2007)
  10. “Coaching is about enabling individuals to make conscious decisions and empowering them to become leaders in their own lives” (Wise 2010 – sorry couldn’t help sneaking one in myself!).

 Interestingly, whilst searching for defintions I came across the following from Bruce Peltier

“A coach must be able to provide a good working definition of coaching and articulate the difference between coaching and psychotherapy”. 

Whilst this sentence might appear on the surface to be self-explanatory, the vast range of definitions can only be a challenge to a coach wishing to provide “a good working definition”.   If only it was that simple……

Can you teach a manager to delegate?


@thehrstore recently tweeted the following question:

So what can done to make it easier for managers who find it tough to delegate? Any suggestions?

This is an interesting question.  My observation is that some people find delegation easy and for others it’s impossible.  And there’s a whole group of people in between who, with the appropriate support and advice, can become great delegators.

The first part of my answer would be to look at the recruitment process.  How are delegation skills tested in the assessment process?  The kind of qualities you are looking for are:

  1. The ability to see the bigger picture
  2. Good time management skills
  3. Focusses on outcomes as opposed to method
  4. Adopts a supportive and developmental approach to others.

When recruiting for a 1st level manager with no prior experience, you won’t be able to fully assess their ability to delegate.  Instead you’ll be looking for their potential.  In essence, you want to avoid recruiting the manager who believes “It’s Quicker If I Do Everything Myself”.   Unfortunately, some managers are appointed despite having this approach, as their techical expertise is valued more than their ability to manage.

The second part of my answer deals with the development of a manager once they are in post.   Any areas of development highlighted during the interview process should be factored into the new manager’s development programme.  And with regular supervision, 1:1 support, and informal intellegence, any other issues that arise within the first six months – particularly around  their management style and ability to delegate should be picked up.  

I always advocate a bespoke approach to a manager’s development.  You need to consider what their key learning needs are and their preferred learning style before investing in any training and development activity.  Motivation, level of committment and amount of time the manager has to invest in their development should also be considered.  One of the most effective and cost effective methods of developing a skill like delegation is through coaching.  I’m also a big advocate of thinking creatively about development

So, you can teach a manager to delegate, but only if you’ve appointed someone who has the ability to demonstrate this skill.   If it’s all about the recruitment process, I’d be interested to hear about any other qualities you believe contribute to good delegation skills.  Also, keen to hear bout any experiences of working with managers to improve their ability to delegate.

Does Your Job Role Affect The Way You Think?

I have recently completed the delivery of a two-day management development programme across two NHS Trusts. The key theme ran through-out the course that I had not previously encountered despite having worked in or with the NHS for the last 10 years: the participants responded differently to the different exercises depending on the type of role they undertook.

The programme was jointly commissioned by two Trusts, but attendance was not mixed. Therefore, one programme had participants who held commissioning, public health or finance roles; the other programme was attended by staff who undertook clinical duties but also were expected to undertake a managerial / leadership role within their designated clinical area.

Commissioners are expected to analyse data, consider the details, ensure that they have the full range of facts in the context of the bigger picture before making any decisions. Clinicians generally see issues at face value. In other words, they call a spade “a spade”, whilst commissioners will call it “a rectangle flat metal sheet attached to wooden pole whilst enables a worker to dig.”

When we came to do some case studies, the reactions from the two types of participants differed. For example: one of the first questions to a case study was “Where does this behaviour take place?”. The clinicians easily responded “The ward”. The comissioners usually asked “There’s not enough information in this case study” or “What does this question mean? Can you explain it more fully?” We adapted how we introduced each exercise to ensure that the participants understood each activity and the questions.

But this has led me to reflect on the issue of does a job role affect the way that an individual thinks? I think that there are three possible conclusions that I can draw:

1) Research has shown that a manager is mostly likely to recruit a member of staff who is similar to them;
2) Certain role roles attract candidates who enjoy using a particular set of skills and abilities
3) MBTI research has shown that certain jobs and organisational cultures make individuals think or behave in a particular way;

These different conclusions can be explained using MBTI types:

A commissioner is more likely to be an INTJ: they look for the bigger picture, are objective and organised. They rely on their thought-processes to analyse issues before determinig what the preferable outcome should be. A Director of Commissioning usually displays these traits and is most likely to recruit similar minded individuals to their team; A junior commissioner is drawn to this role as they enjoy a job where there is analytical data, they can challenge in an objective manner and use their decision-making skills. This junior commissioner who is recruited is an ISTJ: they focus on the detail. As they grow as a commissioner they are encouraged through their 1:1s, appraisals and personal development plan to develop an ability to see the bigger picture and it is highly likely that their MBTI type will change to INTJ.

I have already shared some of my observations from this management development programme with some fellow trainers also working with the NHS: Not only does a job role affect the way that a manager thinks, it also impacts on the successful delivery of any development intervention. So, when next preparing for workshop, bear in mind not only the content of the course to ensure it’s applicable to the audience, but how their role role affects the way the participants think and adapt the exercises accordingly.