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As the saying goes, “It gets lonely at the top.” There are many reasons that one feels isolated and at times lonely when they have reached the pinnacle of success. For one thing, everyone wants to be your friend; but since you can’t make time for everyone – only a select few get invited into the circle. What’s my point? Accepting success and failure once you have reached the highest levels of success requires the same mental toughness it took to get there. As has been proven throughout history, the higher you climb the more quickly the naysayers want to bring you back down. Envy and adversity become the most common invaders you must manage – and all the while you need to remain mentally tough, and not allow the noise to cloud your mind and control your actions.
Mental toughness defines the leadership game. You need wide-angle vision to continuously navigate the terrain that awaits you with each big decision you make and vision you cast. The tension points of leadership can be extremely exhausting and pressure-packed. Nevertheless, the leadership journey must continue and your demeanor must appear unfazed as if it were business as usual.
Mental toughness is acquired over time. To be mentally tough means that risk is your best friend, that innovation comes second nature and that you have grown accustomed to anticipating crisis and managing change. Mental toughness is also a by-product of experiencing failure and knowing how to rebound. As Rick Newman noted in his book, Rebounders, “Setbacks can be a secret weapon. They often teach vital things you’ll never learn in school, on the job or from others.”
As I have learned from my own experiences, mental toughness begins when you can separate your emotions and remain focused on what matters most. And this is never more true than when you are being ambushed by one of the following six negative members of your audience:
1. The Doubters
These are the skeptics who want you to fail and believe your ideas have no merit. They are the pessimistic ones waiting on the sidelines – wanting things to go wrong and salivating to witness your hardship.
2. The Leeches
These are the people who lack creativity and originality. Leeches will stay close to your every move just so they can steal your ideas. They enjoy asking you lots of questions and are aggressive in requesting one-on-one time to pick your brain for wisdom that they can use for their own personal benefit. The sibling of the leech is the loafer, and you can learn more about both types here.
3. The Critics
These are the people who are always finding ways to disrupt your confidence by telling you that your vision is wrong. They are quick to inform you that your knowledge of the marketplace is not realistic as they attempt to throw your thinking off kilter. The critics are a legitimate challenge because they possess valid insights of the landscape you are competing in – yet they lack the hands-on battle wounds to justify their criticisms. They are the prototypical “know-it-alls” who believe that they are always right and that their “written credentials” allow them to have a voice in the matter.
4. The Envious
These are the people who wish they had your courage, but instead waste their energy by poking fun at your efforts to create impact. Envious people make your job more difficult as they attempt to slow down your execution by trying to convince themselves and others that your work isn’t important. Most envious people are those who wish they were more like you, and thus remain bitter because they don’t trust themselves enough to be unique in their own ways. Because we live in a dog-eat-dog world, envious people would rather find joy in making your life difficult rather than using their valuable time to make a difference in the world. Read more about how envy destroys careers here.
5. The Victims
Victims believe they haven’t had a good break in life and thus feel that something is owed to them for their misfortune. They would rather spend their time trying to make you feel sorry for them. They are quick to ask for favors, but slow to reciprocate. They are the manipulators and want others to feel their pain – though they are rarely motivated to take initiative.
6. The Noise
These are the voices that are drowning in mass confusion and just want to be heard. They are loud and obnoxious and crave attention. Unlike the victims, they have no real ambition and live with no purpose. They serve primarily to create chaos and make other people’s lives miserable (or as U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew called them, “Nattering nabobs of negativism”).
Leadership is a journey of mental toughness. Without it, you can’t effectively think, act and innovate. You can’t motivate or inspire the best in others. If you can’t handle the aforementioned six types of people, you should think carefully if you are ready to assume a leadership role. It’s a mandatory responsibility that is not outlined in the job description.