Are Mentally Tough individuals more likely to be promoted? 

One formal piece of peer-reviewed research is useful here*. One of the things that Professor Peter Clough and a colleague Dr David Marchant examined was the relationship between age (and managerial level) with overall mental toughness levels. They found there was a correlation. 

When examining managerial level, they found a correlation with mental toughness levels. The higher the level in the organisation, generally the more mentally tough the individual.  

The correlation was positive with each of the four constructs – the 4 Cs. 

It’s also interesting to see how the Challenge construct emerges as significant at every level. Challenge escribes the capability to deal with change, challenge, the “new” and see opportunity where others might see threat. 

The Life Control factor also appears to be prominent – this reflects the extent to which the individual feels in sufficient control of their lives and their circumstances to achieve what has to be achieved. Its where the sense of “can do” sits 

So, we can see what might useful and/or be important in order to be able to progress in an organisation. 

However, this study did not look at the direction of causality which is a key consideration. In other words, “Do people become more mentally tough because they get to that level or do people get to that level because they are already mentally tough”.  

We are able to connect with other studies to come to a view that it is probably a case of both factors.  

Research also shows that mentally tough individuals will generally develop and improve their mental toughness when they are under pressure. They seem to learn from that experience.  A recent paper on the impact of Covid on individuals has supported this. The mentally tough will generally respond well and learn from their experiences.  

The mentally sensitive, if unaware of their mental toughness levels, will generally respond less well to stress, anxiety and depression. 

So, as they move “up the ladder” and come across more challenging situations the mentally tough are more likely to learn from their experiences than would the mentally sensitive. 

We also see in many studies that it will generally be those who are already more mentally tough than most who will begin that progression. 

Again, there are nuances we need to consider for a fuller picture. 

Do we see Mentally Sensitive individuals succeeding? We do.   

The key here is self-awareness and taking a more rounded view of individual capabilities. A mentally sensitive individual who is knowledgeable and skilled may not succeed in progressing their career because there are elements of their mental sensitivity which prevent them from optimising their capabilities 

However, if they are self-aware about their level of mental toughness and reflect on what this means for them they can often develop, sometimes through coping, the mechanisms to minimise the negative consequences of aspects of their mental sensitivity. 

Moreover, mentally sensitive individuals can often bring valuable perspectives to senior leadership teams. 

Yet again another nuance is important. Very, very few are totally mentally tough or mentally sensitive.  

Now that we understand that there are 8 independent factors that contribute to our Mental Toughness, we often find that most people are mixtures of mental toughness and mental sensitivity. Even a person who is more mentally tough overall might have pockets of mental sensitivity in one or two of those factors. 

Often, we can find that, when exposed to stress, pressure etc in some circumstances, this can result in the apparently mentally tough individual struggling.   

The sustained nature of the Covid pandemic has exposed that in many senior leaders. Capable of dealing with short term crises and dealing with unrelenting pressure for say 15 months can be two quite different things. Their comparatively small elements of mental sensitivity can now become an issue. 

Finally, is sex a factor? 

A Polish study published in the Harvard Business Review, interestingly confirmed that female mental toughness scores rose sharply with managerial level. The study looked at senior leaders in large Financial Services organisations.  

In fact, at senior levels, the average female mental toughness scores were significantly higher than average mental toughness scores for males at the same level. 

The study suggested that, for females to progress when competing with males in an organisation, they often had to be more mentally tough than the males to make the same degree of progress. This, of course, is a societal issue which is important to recognise and address. 

In summary, Mental Toughness is a factor in managerial level. If higher levels of responsibility are progressively more challenging, then having the capability for developing the capability to deal with that challenge will be more than useful. 

There are again nuances. They all indicate that assessing mental toughness and developing self-awareness is both important and valuable. 

If your interest is piqued to learn more about your own Mental Toughness profile and how to assess and develop Mental Toughness in others, please visit www.aqrinternational.co.uk.  and if interested in being a licensed user, contact us through headoffice@aqr.co.uk.
Feel free to connect with me too on LinkedIn or via doug@aqr.co.uk 

 

* Marchant, D. C., Polman, R. C., Clough, P. J., Jackson, J. G., Levy, A. R., & Nicholls, A. R. (2009). Mental toughness: Managerial and age differences. Journal of Managerial Psychology. 

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