Mental Toughness

Does Toyota Create Mental Toughness in its People?

We all know that people are our most valuable asset, and they are essential to the performance of our businesses, wouldn’t it be a good idea to assist both managers and employees to develop optimum mental strength?

The usual phrase is “mental toughness”, conjuring up a vision of muscular men, sports, injuries, and heroic feats, but the phrase “mental strength” is more suited to the corporate world. It is the ability to deal effectively with all challenges and situations.

This is exactly the kind of culture and mental attitude a company like Toyota strives to create in all its employees.

Grounded positivity is the first requirement of mental strength – an optimism that results in action and generates resourcefulness and creativity, ideas and options. It involves the strength to look at setbacks and recessions and see that there are ways to improve the situation. Reminding yourself of all of your own successes will greatly increase your positivity and increase your belief in the possibility of successful outcomes.

Knowing about other people and businesses who have successfully tackled such circumstances will also be of benefit. Most of all the ability to stop negative self-talk and rise above it is key. Both negativity and positivity are infectious, watch what happens when a group get excited about solving a problem, or when a group spirals down in despair. You will want to adopt strategies that give you positivity, and the energy that goes with it, so that you can pass it on to your employees and colleagues.

Grounded confidence and self-belief are allied to positivity and are also components of mental strength. Again they are outward looking and biased towards taking the initiative and acting. There is a strong belief in the ability to make a difference. Managers and team members who are confident have the ability to hold their own, express themselves compellingly and be articulate and productive in meetings. A confident person is not distressed by mistakes and criticism, but takes them as a learning opportunity. Confidence is built up by trying new things, resolving difficult problems, and cultivating interpersonal skills.

Having a mind-set that can withstand stress and rise to challenges is one of the most useful abilities to build. The essence of The Toyota Way, with the two pillars of Respect for People and Kaizen, which of course also encompasses Challenge, sets the framework for building Mental Strength in an organisation. Of course, some stressors such as lack of role clarity and sheer overload are the responsibility of management. The elimination of Muda (Waste), Muri (Overburden) and Mura (Unevenness) are part of the teaching in lean organisations, so that people can analyse and remove these.

Employees must be encouraged to view situations and problems in different ways, in other words to learn to react differently to stressors. Analysis of the way staff approach work can lead to self and group awareness, which in turn creates a solid base for making improvements and eliminating Muda, Muri and Mura.

There are solid rewards for building up mental strength in business and you will be able to take some positive measures yourself after reflection, but often an informed and impartial coach/mentor may be able to assist you in thinking through how to develop that mental strength in your organisation.