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The Real Meaning Of Toughness
by Stuart McAleese

What is toughness?

Have you ever met someone who was just unstoppable? I mean seriously unstoppable? Chances are this person has risen from the bottom of wherever to the top of their profession. These are the people we look up to and admire. More often than not, we think of them as lucky or gifted or skilled.

But what if there was another factor. One that can be learned as easily as any skill? What if YOU could learn this trait and then apply it as these successful people have?

What trait is this?

Toughness! It is the one thing that will determine how far you go!

Toughness – one word with so many conflicting interpretations. Rather than examine current thought on how people perceive toughness, I would like to look at two imaginary people in order to help you understand what toughness really means.

Frank works for an asset management company. He gets a new boss. This manager is very cold, abrasive, callous and uncompromising. He is a total control freak who alienates everyone in the office very quickly with his attitude and dominant manner. Whispers around the office coffee machine center on this new “tough” manager.

Jill owns a media consulting company. She hires Bob who is a graduate from a small college in the area. The workload is high and Bob has to learn very quickly what to do. His role changes daily from giving presentations, learning HTML and direct selling to delivering promotional material and making coffee. He is always happy, can roll with the punches, adapts to change very quickly and copes well with high stress.

Who is tougher – Franks boss or Bob?

Answer – Bob.


Simple – once you understand what toughness is, you realize that it isn’t measured by aggression and abrasiveness but by emotional resilience under pressure, strength and flexibility.

You see, toughness has four basic markers. These are:

1. emotional flexibility – the ability to absorb unexpected emotional turns and remain supple, non-defensive and balanced with the ability to summon a wide range of positive emotions.

2. emotional responsiveness – the ability to remain emotionally alive, engaged and connected under pressure.

3. emotional strength – the ability to exert and resist great force emotionally under pressure and to sustain a strong fighting spirit under pressure.

4. emotional resiliency – the ability to take a punch emotionally and bounce back from disappointments and missed opportunities ready to resume the fight.

From this, one simple definition of toughness could be:

Toughness is the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of your competitive circumstances.

This leads into another question I am often asked. In a given situation, what is more desirable – toughness, skill or talent? Lets answer that by looking at how these qualities interact.

Talent can be defined as the theoretical limit of our achievements. It is a genetic construct. A gift. If we have 100% talent and 0% toughness will we achieve our dreams?

No chance!

Skill is the ability to perform a task well. It is learned, practiced and worked on. It is the result of repetition and hard work. If you had 100% skill and 0% toughness would you succeed in your goals?

Without a doubt – no.

Now, imagine that we had 100% toughness and only moderate skill and average talent. Would we succeed?

Yes – consistently. And we would outperform those with no toughness yet huge skill and talent levels. How is this possible?

Consider this – if you are tough, you will recover from setbacks, you will work hard all the time, you will remain flexible, you will maintain confidence, calmness and energy, you can tap into your skill and talent on demand and you will – with practice – be able to access your empowering emotions at will. Toughness is, after all, physical, mental and above all emotional.

Unfortunately, the common misconceptions surrounding toughness make for unhappy people as we all try to be someone or something we aren’t. on the one hand you could just accept the status quo – but I really don’t think you would be reading this if you were like that!

Or you could resolve to get tougher – and reap the rewards that it brings!

Remember this – your future is determined by what you do, not by your genetics of circumstance.

Stuart McAleese, stuartmcaleese@yahoo.co.uk

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