Tough With It

CAREERING - Paul Lyons, managing partner at Mental Toughness Partners on how to perform better and stress less.

Life in recruitment is called ‘Champagne and Razor Blades’ for good reason. Every day there are multiple distractions, diversions, obstacles and emotions to be overcome in order to make things happen. Recruitment is a mental obstacle course and the people that succeed as recruiters and leaders are those that have the mental strength to stay focused on the tasks in hand and have learnt to ride the emotional rollercoaster of recruitment.

As a recruitment leader and now Mental Toughness Coach to the Recruitment Industry, I have found the ‘magic ingredient’ that the most successful consultants possess which is something I know now as ‘mental toughness’. This trait enables individuals to perform at a higher level, be more positive and to stress less.

Survive and thrive

The term mental toughness was originally coined in the 1990’s by US sports psychologist Dr Jim Loehr and developed further by Professor Peter Clough at Hull University in conjunction with Doug Strycharczyk, Managing Director of UK based psychometric firm AQR International.

Clough and Strycharczyk defined mental toughness in two ways:
1. As ‘resilience and confidence’;

  • Resilience being the ability to bounce back from setbacks and failures,
  • Confidence being the ability to spot and seize opportunities.

Both are vitally important characteristics in recruitment.

Resilience is crucial in mentally withstanding the constant barrage of mini setbacks and being able to work through the wave of potential distractions generated by social media, emails, phone calls, meetings and constantly changing priorities, to achieve your goals and targets. This component requires a high degree of control, structure, routine, resolve and consistency which is predominately left side of the brain behaviour.

As recruiters we also need the confidence and self-belief to push the boundaries to find and convert opportunities. This is more free flowing and emotional. It is less systematic and more about drive and connectivity which is more right side of the brain behaviour.

2. As the ability to ‘perform under stress and pressure, whatever the circumstances’.

Mentally tough people in all walks of life, whether they are athletes, recruiters, leaders or surgeons, flourish when the ‘chips are down’ and the pressure is on. They think and act ‘in the moment’ and don’t get diverted by thoughts of what might happen if they succeed or fail, or hit or miss. They ‘survive and thrive.’

Why you need to be mentally tough

Being mentally tough is important because it helps you to perform at a higher level –to be more consistently productive – and achieve greater wellbeing by being less affected by stress, anxiety or pressure.

Our brains are built to crave security and this desire is more strongly pronounced in some people than others. If you are one of these people, you will likely feel the physical effects of the stress hormone adrenalin that ‘kicks in’ when your security or ego is threatened by a situation or another person. This ‘rush’ of adrenalin prepares you for a highly emotional state of ‘fight, flight or freeze’, which was really useful in prehistoric days but far less so in a modern recruitment office. It disables your ability to think and communicate clearly for minutes or hours. An unpleasant experience can also linger for days and create a negative future mental obstacle.

At the other end of the scale are people who are more focused on achieving outcomes than being secure and so are far less affected by such a threat.

Most of the population will be somewhere in the middle and will strike a balance between being outcomes focused and emotions or feelings focused. So, being mentally tough is important because it enables you to be in control and focus on achieving your goals and outcomes and having the confidence to adapt and thrive where there are opportunities.

The MTQ48 Mental Toughness 4C’s Framework

Clough and Strycharczyk also developed a simple but scientifically valid mental toughness framework and psychometric test, MTQ48, which measures your mental toughness and once measured allows you to develop it.

The 4C’s framework consists of the 4C’s of:

  • Control
    This is your self-worth and life’s purpose – your sense of control over your life and your emotions. If you have high control your default belief is that you shape what happens to you and you manage your emotions when doing it. If you are low on control you are probably a fatalist and blame others and circumstances for failures. You may also lose control when provoked or annoyed or be unduly affected by the mood of people around you.
  • Commitment
    This is your commitment to action through your goals and targets - your ability to focus to achieve these outcomes and not be diverted by the world of distraction around you. If you have high commitment you are excited by measures, goals and targets and make to do lists. If you are low on commitment you avoid setting goals and targets because they are intimidating are easily distracted and don’t prioritise well.
  • Challenge
    This is your drive to be the best you can be and your adaptability to change.
    If you are high on challenge you see change, adversity and variety as opportunities rather than threats. You are easily bored and likely to be a risk taker. Conversely if you are low on challenge you like routine, are risk averse and don’t like shocks, surprises or change.
  • Confidence
    Confidence is your self-belief in your own ability to perform and the ability to influence others. If your Confidence is high, you will have a strong belief in your own abilities and generally have little need for praise or external validation. You are likely to argue your corner and build relationships quickly and easily. If you are low on confidence you are often reluctant to express a view in a discussion or debate or in writing and will need others to boost your self-belief. You will often back down quickly when challenged and have difficulty dealing with assertive people.

This 4C’s framework is easy to understand, communicate and use to develop mental toughness.

Using the MTQ48 in recruitment

I have been using the MTQ48 with my recruitment clients in Australia over the past four years in many ways:

  • Learning and development tool for recruitment teams
  • Leadership tool for recruitment leaders
  • Selection tool for new recruits
  • Managing career transition
  • Managing change

The following mental toughness in recruitment trends are evident:

  • Male and female recruiters and leaders are equally mentally tough, although women tend to be more resilient and men more confident.
  • There is a 90% correlation between people who are mentally tough as per their MTQ48 results and successful recruiters or leaders as judged by their managers or boards.
  • There are ideal profiles for different positions within eg business development, account management, delivery and we have developed templates for these.
  • You can be TOO mentally tough. The best recruiters are balanced between ‘outcomes’ and ‘empathy’. If you are too mentally tough you can be too selfish, too self-absorbed, too emotionally detached. At the other end of the scale being mentally sensitive can cause you to ride every emotion and quickly lose sight of your desired outcome. You will mentally bruise too easily. It is likely that recruitment isn’t the profession for you.

How do you develop mental toughness?

This is another topic for another article but essentially it is building strong self-esteem and routines that allow you to manage your day productively. This may involve forming new habits using traditional techniques such as mindfulness, positive thinking, visualisation, reflection attentional control and goal setting.

Whilst it’s not easy, like physical fitness, mental toughness can be achieved and most people we work with become mentally tougher or indeed where relevant less mentally tough.


There are hundreds of mental toughness blogs from Paul at: https://www.mentaltoughness.partners/category/blog/