Written by Kathy Fauble, M.Ed., Director, Professional Education Services

This is my favorite time on the sports year calendar, the start of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships! Ok, I’m kind of a tennis nerd but it is such an interesting game, both from the physical athletic side of it to the mental fortitude it takes to play a match. It’s a lonely place on the court. You must trouble shoot your game plan, fight through nerves, and keep your focus at a high level. Tennis players must find an inner strength to keep them in the match and that’s not easy to do when you are facing down an opponent. If you’ve played the game, or a similar game, you know that losing can send you in a downward spiral unless you are tough enough to persevere. Your mental toughness during a match often determines if you win or lose.

The same can be said about the game of work. Effective leadership is closely tied with mental fortitude. In a tennis match you can often see when you’ve “got” the other player. When your opponent starts sulking around the court, smacking their racquet, or yelling at their coach you know have the advantage. As a leader, people notice how you behave. If you unravel in tense situations, your team will do the
same and they will be less likely to work through difficult problems.

Building mental toughness is an important part of leadership development. One of the first things you can do is better manage your emotions. That’s hard when the pressure is on but being able to make decisions calmly and decisively is what sets apart a strong leader from a weak leader.

Being mentally tough also means being mentally positive. Your attitude and belief are what will help you succeed. Back to the tennis analogy, if you don’t think you can beat an opponent, you’ve already lost. Along with the right attitude, here are some other things you can do to be stronger mentally:

  1. Be prepared. The more you know the better able you are to react.
  2. Use positive words with yourself and with your team.
  3. Be accountable for your actions. There is no place for blaming or shaming when you are a leader.
  4. Stay focused on what you are doing. It can be easy to be distracted by workplace drama. Maintain your composure and stay on top of your goals.

Most importantly, don’t equate losing with personal shortcoming. When things don’t go the way you want, stay solution focused and use losses as an opportunity to grow. When my daughter played tennis at Mizzou there were many tight matches. One of the things the coach would yell was, “You’ve got this!” It’s a great message to keep in your mind and to share with your team.