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Employability - Developing a Resilient, Agile and Positive Workforce

The four elements of Mental Toughness

In the previous post we examined 12 key behaviours that have been identified as crucial for success in the workplace in the 21st Century.

It is true for organizations - their most important resource is people – and it’s important for staff and leaders too. As Abraham Maslow suggested, personal motivation is often driven by factors such as a sense of belonging, a sense of achievement and a sense of self actualisation – personal growth.

In organizations, this is often captured in talent management programs. 

We are said to live in a VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – although that’s has been largely true of times past. What is different and becoming increasingly challenging is the speed of change in this VUCA world.

What is happening all over the world is that employers and societies are beginning to understand that employability is more than thinking about skills, knowledge, behaviour and preferences.

So what does Employability look like?

In 2013 AQR International carried out a study we consulted with almost 500 employers. Although skills, knowledge and qualifications all had their place, it was really interesting to see that the over-riding requirement was for something most called 'Attitude'. Employers seemed to value this above all else.

When we examined this closely, we found that this embraced two related notions – a core of important behaviours (described in the previous post) and Mental Toughness – sometimes called Mindset or Emotional Resilience.

When we respond to events and demands, we can either see it as an opportunity and be positive in our approach, or see it as a threat and adopt a negative position. Typically, we respond in three ways (this is a potted introduction to Personality):

  1. How we act  - That is, our behaviour.
  2. How we feel – How we respond emotionality to events.

However, there is third component which is at least as important as behaviour or feelings and which determines to a significant extent how we act and how we feel:

  1. How we think – Often called Mental Toughness or Mindset. This describes what we are thinking when faced with situations or responding to events.

The challenge here is that 'how we think' is not visible. We can’t see what is happening on other people’s heads (and we often don’t understand what is happening in our own heads).

Research by Professor Peter Clough of Huddersfield University shows that Mental Toughness consists of 4 elements, each of which we now know has two sub components.

This is shown below:

Mental Toughness Scale

What this means … what does Mindset look like ...


Self-worth & Adaptability

Life Control – I really believe I can do it

Emotional Control – I can manage my emotions and the emotions of others



Goal Setting – I promise to do it – I like working to goals

Achieving – I’ll do what it takes to keep my promises and achieve my goals





Risk Taking – I will push myself – I am driven to succeed

Learning from Experience – even setbacks are opportunities for learning





In Abilities – I believe I have the ability to do it – or can acquire the ability

Interpersonal Confidence – I can influence others – I can stand my ground if needed


Research and application in organizations and education in more than 80 countries consistently shows a clear and close relationship between Mental Toughness and:

  •   Performance – achieving more
  •   Wellbeing – dealing better with stressors and pressure
  •   Positive Behaviour – approaching everything with a 'can do' mindset
  •   Aspirations – interested in own personal development

Which is exactly what the 21st Century employer and business is looking for.

Interestingly, in 2016 the World Economic Forum published a study on the core attributes for the 21st Century and identified 6 character qualities – which map almost perfectly to the above:

  •   Curiosity
  •   Initiative
  •   Grit
  •   Leadership
  •   Adaptability
  •   Social & Cultural Awareness

Can we assess Mental Toughness?

We are able to assess Mental Toughness in terms of these components in individuals and groups through a unique high quality psychometric measure (developed by AQR with Professor Clough). This enables users to assess Mental Toughness before and after an event such as a training & development or coaching programme and assess change.

Can we develop Mental Toughness?

We can. We can either help someone change their mental toughness or we can show someone how to adopt the behaviours that a mentally tough person would adopt. Either way many of the benefits of developing mental toughness can be achieved.

The world of work is changing quickly. It is perhaps vital that individuals and organisations respond positively. There is no other option. Luddism doesn’t work

Skills, knowledge and behaviour will always be important. Working in the future requires a more holistic approach embracing the so called 'soft skills' of Mindset, Mental Toughness and Emotional Intelligence and weaving these into development activity.

The research and studies carried out by AQR International has produced a framework which are valuable for all those who are involved in developing high performing and sustainable organisations.