I recently finished Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court by Jay Bilas and was surprised how many of Bilas’ ideas from sports were also relevant to success in business. There are many examples from sports that can help you be successful in business, and Bilas’ analysis of toughness is at the forefront of these lessons. Since reading the book, I have asked my team to read regularly the article that led to the book. The underlying principle for Bilas is that toughness is not about bravado and conflict. It is found in the heart of an individual willing to devote him- or herself to what s/he knows is right. Toughness isn’t physical. It has nothing to do with size, physical strength or athleticism. It’s an intangible, an attitude, a philosophy.Toughness comes from how you handle your experiences, what you learn from them, and how others guide you through them in your life. Most importantly, it is a skill that can be improved by working on it.
Bend but do not break
Bilas uses physical materials as a means of defining real toughness. In metallurgy toughness is a measure of how much energy a material can absorb before rupturing. Scientists have devised ways to measure a metal’s toughness through lab impact tests, such as swinging a hammer from a pendulum at a metal object to calculate how much energy is required to break the object. Hardness— in metallurgy, at least— is related to toughness, but it’s not the same thing. Hardness describes how much energy it takes to bend or change a material. Being able to bend under pressure without breaking is a more important attribute than hardness. Someone who bends without breaking and bounces back up will prevail over the “hard” athlete or person, i.e., someone who is resistant to bending under pressure but will break with enough force. Persevering, getting up when you have been knocked down, is what true mental toughness is. Soccer great Julie Foudy likens her spirit to a kids’ toy, an inflatable punching bag that pops back up when it is hit. True toughness is mental toughness, and has little to do with physical toughness. As we learned from metallurgy, it is mental toughness that makes a person, player or team unbreakable, whereas physical hardness can be more easily broken. Persistence is not just about pushing forward; it is about pushing through to reach a new height, exceeding a limit you thought you had . That takes mental toughness. Toughness is not about being big or strong, or being a bully. That displays the least amount of toughness. This is lesson number one for the entrepreneur: It is most important to take a blow and be able to bounce back.
You do not need to be a jerk to be tough
Toughness has no relationship to how nice a person is. There is no reason you can’t be exceedingly nice and incredibly tough at the same time. Those two traits are not mutually exclusive. Some people feel they must create confrontation to display toughness, but confrontation just shows the ability to create confrontation. What actually shows toughness is the ability to get through a task without complaining. It is not getting rattled by challenges in completing the task, but showing concentration and patience. Instead those truly tough meet these challenges head on. Lesson number two: Toughness is not acting tough; it is not letting anything stop you from accomplishing your tasks. Continue reading “The value of toughness for tech companies”