Executive Toughness: A book review by Bob Morris

Eecutive  ToughnessExecutive Toughness: The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance
Jason Selk

McGraw-Hill 2012)

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Henry Ford

I share Jason Selk’s high regard for John Wooden, arguably the greatest college basketball coach ever but without any doubt one of the finest human beings who ever lived. In the Preface to this book, Selk recalls a time when he spent several hours one afternoon with the coach of teams that won ten NCAA championships during his last twelve years at U.C.L.A. I also had the good fortune to meet Coach Wooden and can personally attest to his compelling decency. All of the teams he coached throughout his career played with the same mental discipline that he did when he was an “All American” in high school and then at Purdue. I have read all the books written by and about Coach Wooden and do not recall a single reference by him to “winning” or “losing,” nor do any of those who played on his teams.

The “executive toughness” to which the title of Selk’s book refers is essentially the same strength found in peak performers in all other human activities. But as Coach Wooden would be the first to add, human greatness also involves strength of spirit and, even more essentially, strength of character. This is what Jack Dempsey once had in mind when observing that champions “get up when they can’t.” and it was what Bob Jones had in mind when calling a two-stroke penalty on himself while competing in the U.S. Open golf championship. He eventually finished second, losing the title by one stroke. Someone pointed out that no one near him at the time (including his caddy, several officials, and hundreds of spectators) saw the violation. He replied, “I did.”

What Selk offers is a comprehensive and cohesive program to develop mental toughness whose foundation consists of Accountability (doing what must be done and assuming responsibility for the results), Focus (constant improvement of execution and consistency while eliminating distractions), and Optimism (determination to overcome all obstacles). He carefully defines his terms as he goes along, includes suggested action steps for his reader to take, and concludes each chapter with three “Choose to Be Great” initiatives to implement and strengthen the key points in the chapter’s material. There are several dozen assessment exercises inserted throughout the narrative. They serve two separate but important purposes: they facilitate interaction between the reader and the material, and, enable the reader to “keep score” on progress thus far as well as self-improvement yet to be completed.

These are among the dozens of passages I found to be of greatest interest and value, also listed to suggest the range of subjects covered during the course of the book’s narrative:

o The Characteristics of Mental Toughness, and, Developing Accountability (Pages 3-10)
o A Scorecard for Your Life (21-26)
o Self-Image, Self-Communication, and Performance (31-33)
o Obstacles to Effective Goal Setting (48-50)
o Excuses: The Enemy of Accountability (74-75)
o Performance versus Perfectionist Evaluation 86-89)
o Preparation Block 2: Physical Well-Being for Increased Performance (111-114)
o Identify Your Three Most Important Scripts (127-129)
o The Ultimate Measure of Mental Toughness (153-155)
o Making a Habit of Habit (175-180)

I agree with Selk that the “journey” of self-discovery and self-improvement he proposes requires all three of the aforementioned blocks: Accountability, Focus, and Optimism. That said, it is important to stress as strongly as possible that each of the three must be improved continuously throughout the difficult, often perilous process. Reading and then re-reading this book or any other will NOT enable a reader to reach the ultimate destination because there is none. The journey does not end until one’s life itself does. However, progress cannot be achieved or at least sustained without a mental-training program such as the one that Selk recommends. What he offers combines the primary functions of a compass, a road map, and an operations manual.

No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope of material that Jason Selk provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of Executive Toughness. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how to find and develop mental as well as emotional fitness that could perhaps be of substantial benefit to their professional development as well as to the success of their own organization.

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