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What Are 4 Core Leadership Theories And How To Apply At Work

What Are 4 Core Leadership Theories And How To Apply At Work

The role of a leader is paramount to a team.

Imagine an orchestra that has all the best musicians in the world except a conductor. Though every member can play perfectly on their own, if they come together, they will only produce incompatible melody; an orchestra can only create harmonious music when it is led by a conductor.

In fact, the same situation is applied to every community. If a company does not run with a leader, chaos happens: no deadline is set to urge the members, different people shout different voices, the company is blinded without a clear goal.

All of these reveal a pure fact: a leader is essential to a team to run smoothly and effectively. A leader is important, as he or she will help the community to over-see the situation and make the best decision. Only by this, the resources of a team can be allocated efficiently.

If you are currently at the position of leading a team, you should give some credits to yourself, as you play an important role. And in order to nail this role, you may want to study some theories about leadership, and lead your teammates to perform at their best.

To start with, you may want to know which level of leadership you are currently at.

Level 5 leadership from Harvard Business Review

The concept of Level 5 leadership was first introduced by a business consultant, Jim Collins. His concept was later published in a Harvard Business Review article.

The concept of Level 5 leadership began with a study conducted in 1996. In the study, Collins studied 1,435 successful companies, and he distinguished 11 truly great ones from others. Collins discovered that these 11 companies were great as they were led by what he called “level 5” leaders.

The level 5 leaders, according to Collins, possess humility and compassion for the company.

Now, you may have a look at this hierarchy of leadership:

Level 1: Highly Capable Individual

At this level, you possess the knowledge and skill that enable you to excel your work.

Level 2: Contributing Team Member

At level 2, you contribute your knowledge and skill to the success of the company. In other words, you work productively with other people in your company.

Level 3: Competent Manager

At this stage, you are able to organise your team effectively to achieve goals.

Level 4: Effective Leader

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Here you are able to stimulate a department to meet performance objectives and achieve a vision.

Level 5: Great Leader

At the top level, you possess all the qualities of the previous levels, plus you harbour a unique blend of humility and will of true greatness.

It is always a good idea for you to constantly reflect on your leadership.

If you desire to climb up the ladder, and reach a higher level of leadership, you may find it helpful to study some core leadership theories.

In the following part, we would like to introduce you to four basic, yet essential, leadership theories.

Core Leadership Theories

Trait Theories: What are the traits that make a great leader?

As suggested by the name, the Trait Leadership Theory offers us a tool to distinguish the traits that are commonly possessed by great leaders.

Dr. Gordon Allport, a psychologist, is one of the most famous promoter of the theory.

In a nutshell, the Trait Leadership Theory is founded on the belief that all great leaders possess intrinsic traits that make them a great leader; in other words, a leader is born, not made.

With this belief, the Trait Leadership Theory focuses on analysing the mental, physical and social traits of great leaders in order to understand the combination of traits shared among great leaders.

Some of these traits include [1]:

  • Adaptable to situations
  • Cooperative
  • Decisive
  • Self-confident
  • Tolerate of stress

From here, we can see the Trait Leadership Theory tells us not only intelligence or skills account for a great leader, but the personal traits are also important indicators.

This theory can help your leadership, as by understanding the traits of a great leader, you will be able to spot out any potential leader in your team. They are competent candidates who are worth of your cultivation; they are also capable of higher workload. In this light, this theory helps you allocate your man resource more efficiently.

However, the Trait Leadership Theory has its shortfalls. One should be reminded that the theory was developed in 1930s. During that period of time, any practice of personality measurement was still immature. In other words, one may argue that the studies of the traits are not accurate. Besides, in Gordon Allport’s study, the samples of the study were average managers, not “great leaders”. For that, one may argue the traits are not representative enough.

Despite these shortfalls, the value of the Trait Leadership Theory lies in the fact that it is one of the first theories that combine leadership study and psychology; it also founded later theories of leadership, with Behavioral Theory being one of them, which we are going to talk about in the next section.

Behavioral Theory: What does a great leader do?

Different from the Trait Leadership Theory, the Behavioral Theory describes leadership in terms of their behaviors, instead of their physical or mental traits.

The Behavioral Theory believes that great leadership is a result of effective role behaviors. In this light, we can say that by learning the effective behaviors, everyone can be a great leader: a great leader is made, not born.

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In 1930s, one of the scholars in this domain of study, Kurt Lewin, divided the leader’s behaviors into three types. They are:

Autocratic Leader

The autocratic leaders make decision without consulting their teammates. Their behaviors are considered appropriate when it requires quick decision making, and when there is no need for team agreement for a successful outcome.

Democratic Leader

Contrary to the autocratic leaders, democratic leaders allow input from their teammates. This style of leadership is especially important when team agreement is significant. However, it should be noted that it is difficult to manage if there are too many different perspectives and ideas offered by teammates.

Laissez-faire Leader

Laissez-faire leaders allow their teammates to make many decisions. This style of leadership is considered appropriate when the team is capable, is motivated, and is able to run without close supervision. However, sometimes, Laissez-faire leaders may be considered languid by their teammates.

As a matter of fact, in the field of the Behavioral Theory, many studies were done to find which style is the best in leading a community. For example, in 1999, Naylor had conducted a systematic comparison between autocratic and democratic leading behaviors.

The implication of the Behavioral Theory to you as a leader is that you can learn the behaviors of great leaders, and try to apply in your work field.

However, while the Behavioral Theory analyses the great leaders’ behaviors, which is an aspect not covered by the Trait Leadership Theory, it still misses analysing an important element: the context in which the leaders exist.

The next theory we are going to introduce covers the aspect that the Behavioral Theory has not yet covered.

Contingency Theory: What is the type of leadership this context requires?

The Contingency Theory studies which style of leadership is best suited for a particular working context.

This theory believes there is no single leadership that is appropriate in all situations. That is to say, success is dependent on several variables, including the leadership style, the qualities of the teammates, and the situational features (Charry, 2012). Using the words of Lamb (2013), the Contingency Theory states that the effective leadership depends on a balance between the leader’s styles and that demanded by the situation.

To get a sense about what the Contingency Theory is about, we may look at two of the models proposed by scholars in this field.

Fiedler Model

The Fiedler Model was proposed in 1960s by Fred Fiedler, a scientist studying leadership. The Fiedler Model states that effective leadership is dependent on two factors: the leader’s leadership style, and the power of control given to the leader by the situation. The model introduces three steps to determine these two factors:

  • Identifying the leadership style
  • Defining the situation
  • Matching the leader and the situation

Cognitive Resource Theory

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The Cognitive Resource Theory was proposed by Fred Fredier and Joe Garcia in 1987. It is a refinement of the Fiedler Model. The Cognitive Resource Theory believes that stress unfavorably affects one’s leadership. The leader’s intelligence and experience are two elements that overcome the negative effect of stress. The theory tells us that in a low-stress situation, the leader’s intelligence is more effective to overcome stress; meanwhile, in a high-stress situation, the leader’s experience is more effective to overcome stress.

Power-and-Influence Theory: How should a leader make the best use of power and influence?

The final theory we would like to introduce to you is the Power-and-Influence Theory. This theory takes a different approach from the above three theories. This theory focuses on analysing how a leader can encourage his or her teammates to work by using his or her power and influence.

To let you understand more about the theories that fall under the Power-and-Influence Theory, we would like to introduce two models.

French and Raven’s Five Forms of Power

This model was proposed by French and Raven in 1959. It introduces five forms of power that account for the influence of a leader. These five forms of power include:

  • Legitimate: the formal right to make command
  • Reward: the ability to compensate others
  • Coercive: the ability to punish others
  • Referent: the personal attractiveness
  • Expert: the knowledge and skills in the field

The implication of this model is that if you hope to increase your power and influence over your teammates, you are encouraged to improve one of the above domains. According to French and Raven, it is better to invest the leader’s power on Referent and on Expert. Out of the two domains, it is better to invest one’s power on Expert, as it is about the knowledge and skill in the job field, which is the most legitimate source of power.

Transactional Theory

This model is founded on the assumption that all people seek pleasurable experience, and avoid un-pleasurable experience. As a result, people are inclined to align themselves with those who can add to their values.

This model thus aims to teach you how to work on the human tendency, and form a mutually beneficial relation with the teammates, and encourage them to fulfil your command.

A Great Leader Should Know How To Motivate The Team As Well

After reading some core theories in the study of leadership, now we would like to demonstrate to you how to apply a leadership theory, and use it to motivate your teammates.

Two-Factor Theory

Two-Factor Theory was proposed by Frederick Herzberg in 1950s. It aims to analyse the causes of workers’ motivation and satisfaction in work.

In his study, Herzberg analysed 200 accountants and engineers who were asked about their positive and negative feelings about their work. Herzberg concluded that there are two factors governing workers’ sense of motivation and satisfaction in work.

The first factor is Motivator Factors. These are the factors which increase workers’ satisfaction and motivation. Examples of these include the enjoyment of work, and career progression.

The second factor is Hygiene Factors. These are the factors that could cause dissatisfaction when they are absent. For example, the company’s travel allowance may be one Hygiene Factor, as if it is suspended, workers may feel dissatisfied.

Even though the above two factors seem similar, Herzberg pointed out that they are different in the sense that the absence of Motivator Factors does not necessarily cause dissatisfaction, while the absence of Hygiene Factors causes dissatisfaction.

Application to your workplace

The Two-Factor Theory tells us that there are methods to improve employees’ motivation of work. And the way to do so is to improve the Motivator Factors, and to secure the Hygiene Factors.

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In this light, you should first have a clear picture about the situation of your community, such as the policies, the benefits, and the facilities of your company.

Then, in order to improve your teammates’ motivation, you should try to improve the Motivator Factors. For example, if you recognise the modernist architecture of your office motivates your teammates to work, you can enlarge the area that is built by this architectural style.

In addition to the Motivator Factors, you are also reminded to secure the Hygiene Factors. For example, if you recognise that your teammates will be dissatisfied if the air-conditioning is broken down, then you may want to allocate more resource to the maintenance of your office’s air-conditioners.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The Hierarchy of Needs theory was introduced by psychologist Abraham Maslow through his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in 1943. The key of the theory is that individual’s basic needs must be satisfied before the other higher needs are motivated to achieve.

According to Maslow, there are basically 5 levels of the hierarchy:

The first level is Physiological. It is the lowest level of needs, such as food, water and shelter. These needs are the most basic needs that a person must need to survive.

The second level is Safety. It included personal and financial security, as well as health and wellbeing. Some common examples are freedom from war, violence, job security and work safety.

The third level is belongingness. It represents the needs for friendship, relationships and family.

The fourth level is esteem. Esteem means the need for the person to feel confident, and be respected by others. Approval of families and friends, recognition and high status are some examples belong to esteem.

The fifth level is self-actualization. It is the highest level of all the other needs. It is the desire to achieve as much as you can and become the most you can be. It included achievements in education, religion, personal growth and advancement.

Maslow proposed that it is pointless to achieve or even aware of lofty goals like religion and personal growth when you are dying of starvation or facing life threat.

Application to the workplace

The Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be applied to workplace for boosting productivity.

The founder of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain and head of Hospitality at Airbnb, Chip Conley, transformed his business through the uses of the theory.

He gathered a group of 8 housekeepers and asked if someone from Mars came down and saw them doing as a housekeeper, what would those people call them. The housekeepers turnout came up with “The Serenity Sisters”, “The Clutter Busters” and “The Peace of Mind Police”.

This exercise let the housekeepers understood their own importance with a thought that they were creating a shelter for traveler instead of simply cleaning a room. Knowing the value of self, they felt respected and gained motivation to work harder. As a result, efficiency was highly lifted.

There are no denies there are so much advantages by attaining the highest level of the Hierarchy of Needs. Yet, before enjoying the benefits that the achievement of the highest needs brings you, it is important to ensure the lower needs are being satisfied. If the workers are lack of shelter, short of time to focus on family and friends, having financial instability, they can hardly realize their own value and make the most out of them.

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

Reference

[1] Handbook of leadership: A survey of literature

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Chris Cheung

Editorial Intern, Lifehack

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

Want to know the good news?

No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Absolutely!

But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

Easier said than done, right? Try these:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

Be Patient about the Process

No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

2. Connect with Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

3. Find Strength in Unity

The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Recruit Some Cheerleaders

If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

Form an Accountability Group

Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
  • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
  • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
  • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
  • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
  • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

Tying it All Together

Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

But here’s the bottom line:

A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

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Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

Reference

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