Toughness is a business trait that is often implied, but rarely discussed. A main reason for this is because the term “toughness” is generally thought of in a primitive, less sophisticated fashion related to physical dominance, combative behavior, or athletic superiority. Toughness is a word not often used related to entrepreneurial success; however, it is one of the most important traits entrepreneurs must possess to succeed in business. Entrepreneurial toughness though, is not about the ability to physically dominate another person; it is about the mental, emotional, and spiritual (or ethical) toughness that is required to propel an entrepreneur to business success.
The current political season is apt demonstration of a lack of entrepreneurial toughness. News reports have been filled over the past weeks with multiple stories of candidates showing a lack of restraint, discipline, integrity, and ethics; all while claiming to be the best choice to lead the nation. One candidate even claims to be the “toughest,” while objective evidence screams the very opposite. However, even if a candidate is given the benefit of the doubt regarding their toughness, they are likely describing physical toughness, and not the type of toughness necessary to successfully lead a country (or company) to success.
You probably have never, and probably will never, hear Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Bufett (the three wealthiest American entrepreneurs) describe themselves as tough in a physical sense, but their types of toughness have left many competitors shaking in their boots at the thought of meeting these entrepreneurs head-to-head in the marketplace. Why? Because these entrepreneurs and many other successful entrepreneurs like them exemplify the three traits of entrepreneurial toughness needed for business success.
- Mental Toughness – Mental toughness is the ability to be disciplined in your business execution, and defeat pressures to develop unproductive habits that cause a loss of focus on taking the right actions daily. Mental toughness involves building the discipline and intestinal fortitude to develop a plan of action, and then to see it through to completion. It involves diligently maximizing your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses. It’s forcing yourself to do the things you don’t want to do, in order to achieve the results you want to have; it’s staying focused on the ultimate goal without getting sidetracked along the way. Mental toughness is what separates dreamers from doers.
- Emotional Toughness – Emotional toughness represents the ability to overcome criticism, naysayers, and temporary setbacks to keep pushing toward business success. Emotionally tough entrepreneurs understand, and even appreciate, that the best laid plans sometimes go awry and that entrepreneurship, at best, is an inexact science. However, they maintain the ability to continue striving for success and making new plans. Emotionally tough entrepreneurs also know that they will have people who love them, and will also have others who don’t appreciate them at all. They deal with criticism well, are able to admit mistakes, and make corrections or adjustments as necessary to reach the overall goal. Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Emotionally tough entrepreneurs live by this creed.
- Spiritual (Ethical) Toughness – The last and sometimes overlooked type of entrepreneurial toughness is spiritual (or ethical) toughness. This type of toughness represents the ability to conduct business with integrity and ethics in a way that follows the ‘Golden Rule’ of doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Spiritually tough entrepreneurs resist the urge to use shortcuts, illegal, or unethical practices to advance business success. Over the long-term, and in the final analysis, companies that do the right thing by its customers, employees, and the community-at-large will succeed more than the companies that lie, cheat, steal, and hoard their way to success. While these selfish strategies may work for a period of time, maybe even for many years, ultimate success relies on running a business of integrity and honesty. Business is a contact sport, and even the best of companies sometimes commit errors in this aspect of toughness when the going gets tough. However, when truly successful businesses fall down, they get back up again to do the right thing.
Business success is more of a marathon than a sprint. It requires discipline, patience, persistence, and inner strength. The Robert H. Schuller quote “Tough times never last, but tough people do” is as relevant in the entrepreneurial world as it is in any profession a person can chose; but knowing the difficulties ahead of time can help you toughen up for the journey.