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Episode 429: The Mentally Strong Leader

Episode Summary

In today’s episode, the amazing Scott Mautz teaches us to strengthen our minds and achieve more, even (and especially) during difficult times. Throughout our conversation, you’ll hear about how Scott revamped the meaning of “reaching the next level” in his career and the moment he decided to step away from his successful corporate job to pursue his purpose and start his own thing. Scott also shares his thoughts on mental strength, training the mental muscles, controlling negative emotions to prevent them from taking over, and much more.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our “Becoming Your Best” podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. We are always so excited to be together with you. Thanks for tuning in. We have a show for you today that is going to be amazing. Our guest today is a speaker and trainer commonly described as riveting. He is a fun person—though he claims his daughter doesn’t really believe that statement—but his one-of-a-kind blend of business experience, research, storytelling, tools, sprinkles of humor, and high-octane delivery opens hearts and minds. It’s going to be fun to have him with us. He has a great passion for helping others to become mentally stronger and achieve more, even in the face of challenges, whether it’s at work or in life. He prides himself on his “no diva” policy, just being easy to work with, which is refreshing, and especially on coming across as authentic and as down-to-earth as he really is. So, welcome, Scott Mautz. 

Scott Mautz: Yeah, thank you so much. It’s so great to be here, Steve. I appreciate it. To put a little plug out for you: folks, go read this book. It’s really great, the one Steve wrote. I really recommend it. I’m really glad to be on your show, Steve. We were chatting before, and I think you and I have a lot in common. I’m very eager to share what I’ve learned with your audience today. 

Steve Shallenberger: It’s going to be a rich resource. I’m glad that you’re able to enjoy Becoming Your Best. We talked about that a little bit beforehand. That’s why Scott’s on the show today, as we do have quite a bit in common. But I think he is going to bring a whole different perspective to an important and very same subject: leadership literally drives the world. It’s helped us get where we are today. Let me tell you just a little bit more about Scott before we get going. He is the CEO and founder of Profound Performance, a keynote workshop and training company that helps business leaders become even better, more inspired versions of themselves. He is a former senior executive at Procter & Gamble, where he successfully ran several of the company’s largest multibillion-dollar business units. He is an award-winning, best-selling author, a popular course instructor on LinkedIn Learning, and faculty at the Indiana University School of Business for their executive education program. His latest book is “The Mentally Strong Leader: Build the Habits to Productivity, Regulate Your Emotions, Thoughts, and Behaviors.” Well, Scott, with that, let’s get right into it. Please tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you.

Scott Mautz: Well, I grew up in the corporate world, Steve, as you mentioned in my opening. I spent several decades in a variety of different corporate companies, just working my way through while really trying to pay attention to what makes great leaders great and what makes achievers achieve. At one point in my journey—and I bet, Steve, you can probably associate with this, or you have plenty of listeners who can—as I was working, what I thought it was all about was, let’s see if I can get to the next promoted level, do a great job, make a difference to the people around me, then get to the next promoted level, and so on. Until, at one point, Steve, in my corporate journey, I realized, “Holy moly, I don’t want that next level.” When I looked up at that job, what it required, and what I would have to do—and for me personally, what it might take away from my mental health and my time spent with my family—I didn’t really want it anymore. That became a really strong inflection point in my life, in my corporate career, when I decided to really take a chance. I decided to turn down that next-level promotion and decided to make a leap to broaden my platform for making a difference with the spoken and the written word, which is what I do today. I speak all over the world, teach courses, and write books to share what I’ve learned about leadership and, of late, to share what I’ve learned about mental strength, which we are obviously going to talk more about. It was that inflection point, Steve, where I really had to take a risk in my life and say, “I have to believe that I can do this. I have to believe in my ability to expand my portfolio to make a difference in people’s lives.” I’ll tell you, when I made the leap, Steve, it was the best thing I ever did in my life. Now, I work for myself and with my teammates here at Profound Performance, our keynoting and workshop company, and I’m just so proud of all we’ve accomplished since that moment. 

Steve Shallenberger: How long ago, Scott, did you have that experience where you came to that realization and decided to take the leap and do what was in your heart? 

Scott Mautz: Yeah, it was about 12 years ago. I actually even started writing my first book while I was still in the corporate world, just trying to get my reps in as a writer. I started speaking a lot around the company and then, of course, outside of the company on weekends as a side gig, if you will, trying to hone my reps and hone what I wanted to talk about and what I was interested in. I even stayed in corporate for a while, while on the side, I was testing out this philosophy of trying to broaden my platform for making a difference. That’s how long ago it was. Now, it seems like just yesterday, but I’ve been energized, even more so, ever since. 

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s wonderful. Tell us about your book. When was it published, and what went into that book? How did it come about? 

Scott Mautz: Well, the book is coming out on May 7th, 2024. Depending on when listeners hear this, it may already be out by then. The title is “The Mentally Strong Leader.” Obviously, it’s about mental strength, and I’ll break that down for the listeners into two pieces. First and foremost, at its root level, Steve, mental strength is the ability to regulate your emotions, your thoughts, and your behaviors for productive outcomes despite the circumstances—yes, even in adversity. As I like to say, it’s managing yourself internally so that you can lead externally with brilliance. Here’s the thing, Steve: I think most of us intuitively understand that to be able to succeed, you have to be able to regulate your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. But guess what—this just in—doing that is really, really hard. However, the good news is that if you know how to build specific habits to increase your mental strength, it’s almost like training your brain for achievement.  

Scott Mautz: I’ve been researching the topic of mental strength for quite a long time now. One piece of research really drove me to the fact that I have to get what I’ve learned out into the world. I asked over 3,000 executives a central question: “Thinking of the highest achieving organizations that you’ve ever been part of—and I encourage you to do the same, Steve—that overcame the most obstacles. What were the attributes of the key leader of that organization at that time?” It blew me away. In the research, I found that 91.2% of respondents described the same profile of the same type of leader: a mentally strong leader. For further definition, the second half of the definition of mental strength equates to six mental muscles. The respondents at the time didn’t know this, but they were describing people who were mentally strong because they were describing six mental muscles that they were flexing. There were leaders that showed tremendous fortitude, confidence, boldness, goal focus—the ability to stay focused on their goals—incredible decision-making skills, and even great messaging skills. What’s the message that you give to the troops? Is it positive in nature? Is there a quality to your intention, a quality to your presence, a level of engagement to that? So, fortitude, confidence, boldness, decision-making, goal focus, and messaging were the things that I heard back over and over again. These leaders achieved despite adversity and showed these traits over and over again, and it matches up with what equates to mental strength. So, it makes sense, Steve, because those six mental muscles are the ones that require self-regulation skills; they require habits to be really good at that. You can’t just stay confident forever; things happen. You have to go back and strengthen that confidence muscle over and over again. You can’t just have unending resilience and fortitude. You have to go back to the well and strengthen that muscle; you have to self-regulate negative thoughts that get in the way of you being resilient over and over again. So, all of that is why I say, Steve, that mental strength is the leadership superpower of our times. 

Steve Shallenberger: Being an author and knowing the regimen that it takes—the discipline and the thought—to create ideas and really walk through it in your own mind and understand how it can have great power ultimately in your actions. I am just guessing here, Scott, that where you talk about regulating your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, I’m just thinking about those. Those are all important. You’ve probably put those in order for a reason. Talk about that; that’s a big deal. Emotions precede thoughts, thoughts definitely precede behaviors, and behaviors deliver the results that you get. So, if you want to end up with excellence, you need to really be thoughtful about how you manage your emotions. How do you regulate them in your world? But then they directly flow into the thoughts that you can have, and the thoughts are the magic that impacts your behavior. So, do you mind talking about what you went through on that? 

Scott Mautz: You did a fantastic job of summarizing that all together. But you’re exactly right, Steve. The emotions are the blueprint that we have inside all of us that will really create a certain thought pattern. The thoughts that we have lead to behaviors. The thing about the three working together, Steve, is it can be daunting for someone to say, “Okay, I got it—mental strength. I have to be able to regulate my emotions, thoughts, and behaviors productively, even in adversity. I got that.” That sounds daunting to do all three of those. That’s why “The Mentally Strong Leader” is based on habit-building science that allows you to regulate all three, in order or not—emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Here’s what I mean: habit-building science teaches us a couple of core things have to happen for you to be able to build a habit. You have to have repetitions, first and foremost — makes sense. If you want to create a habit of anything, you have to have repetitions. So, the over 50-plus proven tools in “The Mentally Strong Leader” to help you build the habits to create those stronger mental muscles—they’re all designed as systems and frameworks so that you can get your reps in, over and over again, to build the habit that will help you control your emotions, your thoughts, or your behavior. 

Scott Mautz: Two other pieces of habit-building science that also help you with all three—emotions, thoughts, and behaviors—habit-building science teaches us, Steve, that you have to know what the first small step is to take in building a habit. So many habits never get formed because people don’t even know where to start. There’s a section in the book, “The Mentally Strong Leader,” for every one of the 50-plus habit-building tools, called “Your First Small Step,” to tell you exactly what to do to get started on building a habit of fortitude, for example. There’s also a section—just to round out the habit-building science behind it—called “In Moments of Weakness.” Because we also know habit-building science teaches us there’s a major inflection point; if you want to actually build a habit of confidence, you have to know what happens in moments of weakness, when you’re not feeling so confident. What do you do when your systems are breaking down? “The Mentally Strong Leader” also helps you with that as well. So, whether it’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in that order, which it most often is because of the flow of the psychology of it, or it’s out of order, the habits you can build through “The Mentally Strong Leader” will help you regulate all of those. 

Steve Shallenberger: I’m just thinking about mental health for a second. That’s a big part of emotion, and it flows into the others. I think most of our listeners would agree and have read the research, so when a person is happy, upbeat, and has a positive frame of mind, it’s much easier to think positive thoughts, constructive thoughts—how do we solve problems—which then leads right into our behavior. What’s been your experience, Scott, on how to have a healthy set of emotions? How do you manage or regulate your emotions to generally try to be upbeat and positive? What have you found? 

Scott Mautz: The first good piece of news is that the opposite of being mentally strong is not being mentally weak. We all have a baseline of mental strength to build from if you know how to do it. In “The Mentally Strong Leader,” there are over 50-plus proven tools to help you build the habit to become mentally stronger. I’ll give you an example that goes right to what you’re asking. So, there’s a tool in the book called the “Redirect Rhythm.” It’s all about helping you to navigate negative emotions in the moment and to control those emotions. By the way, when people say, “Hey, listen, we’re going to have a discussion, Steve, and I need you to check your emotions at the door,” that doesn’t really work. Why? Because we’re human beings. We don’t just check our emotions at the door; they show up. So, for example, what do you do to navigate negative emotions in the moment? There’s a process called the “Redirect Rhythm.” I’ve been working on this for decades, and it has been proven and revalidated over and over again. It’s four steps you can take in the moment when you feel that emotion bubbling up in a negative situation, and you feel like you’re going to lose it. There are four super-quick steps. As you learn to do these, it becomes a habit over time. The first thing you do is create space from that moment. You have to do the proverbial “take a breath.” Now, everybody understands, “Yeah, I know, I gotta take a breath. I’ve heard that before, Scott.” But here’s the thing—what you don’t realize is what psychology teaches us about what you’re actually doing when you take that breath. When you take a breath, you’re creating distance from the intensity of the emotion; you’re breaking the gravitational pull of the emotion that’s dragging you someplace you don’t want to be. So, you have to break that gravitational pull by taking a pause and taking your breath. Then, you go instantly into naming the emotion, and you ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” 

Scott Mautz: So, for example, Steve, maybe you and I are having a heated argument, and I’m starting to get frustrated. I take a breath and think, “Alright, right now, I’m feeling anger. I’m feeling anger because Steve doesn’t agree with my point of view.” Once you can name the emotion that you’re feeling, it begins to lose its hold over you. You can point it out and say, “Okay, that thing I’m feeling is anger.” Then, you move into the last two steps of the Redirect Rhythm, which are to reassess and redirect. You ask yourself, “Okay, what’s really happening here? What’s happening here is I just don’t like the fact that Steve has a different opinion from me, and I need to get over that.” So, you go into the redirect: “What am I going to do about it? How will I respond, not react?” When we react, it tends to be emotive and emotional. When we respond, we stop and, in a very straightforward and intentional way, say, “Okay, knowing that I’m angry, knowing that, when you really think about it, what’s really happening is Steve just has a different point of view from me. What am I going to do about it? How am I going to act now? Not how am I going to emote, but how am I going to act?” What I’ve seen over the years is once you start the pattern of “create space, name the emotion, reassess, and redirect,” it’s a very positive way to control negative emotions in the moment. That’s just one example of the tools in “The Mentally Strong Leader” that helps you, to your question, control your emotions in a positive and productive way. 

Steve Shallenberger: I’m just reflecting; these are great habits to develop so that when these things arise in your life—it’s good for me, it’s good for anyone—you have a way to handle it, a way to think about it. So, nicely done. 

Scott Mautz: One thing I did want to add to that, which further helps you figure out how to handle it, is in “The Mentally Strong Leader” there’s also a mental strength self-assessment that you take in chapter two, towards the beginning of the book. It’s 50 questions that really help you figure out what are the mental muscles that I need to level up. It gives you an overall mental strength score, and you can see how you score relative to most people. There are four different tiers of scores, and you get a score for how to develop your mental muscle of fortitude, confidence, boldness, decision-making, goal focus, and messaging to the troops. Then, once you understand and see where your strengths and your weaknesses are, you can then build a customized mental strength training program to help you specifically in the ways that are best for you. Because just like when you go to the gym, you don’t go in and say, “I’m going to work every muscle in my body all day today.” You go in with a plan: Wednesday is back day, Thursday is leg day or arm day, or whatever. That’s what the mental strength self-assessment helps you to do. You can customize your own training program based on the muscles you need to build to become mentally stronger. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you for that resource. In thinking about the mentally strong leader, what’s been your experience? How can one become more resilient? You have these punches in the stomach or the unexpected happens and you want to keep your composure and provide the kind of leadership we’re talking about. How do you become more resilient? 

Scott Mautz: I have many tools in that chapter of “The Mentally Strong Leader” on building resilience and fortitude. One of my favorites that folks tell me they like a lot is that we don’t often think that a core part of building resilience, Steve, is getting better at problem-solving. It’s almost by definition in resilience—resilience means something has been presented that’s a problem, and you’ve got to figure out a way through that problem. But there’s a trap that many of us fall into when it comes to problem-solving called the static trap. If your listeners can be aware of this, it can help them to be better problem solvers and more resilient. The static trap is this: First, it starts when you are being static, meaning you’re denying that a problem exists. Tell me if this sounds familiar at all, Steve. You’re in an organization, and you can see that people are doing nothing about it; they’re ignoring the problem; they deny it doesn’t exist until the problem can no longer be ignored. Then you’re not just being static, and you start to create static, meaning now that the problem can’t be ignored, it’s on the surface; you start to distort the problem and make excuses for why the problem really exists. You downplay its impact, and you redirect attention by finger-pointing. Then, even when you admit the problem exists, you move from creating static to remaining static, doing nothing about it, still sticking your head in the sand, hoping that it just goes away. Of course, the solution to the static trap is to begin to recognize the signs of problem denial, which I go in-depth in “The Mentally Strong Leader.” So, that’s one way that you can really increase your fortitude, is to avoid the static trap.

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, and jump in and say, “How can I be a productive change agent here and facilitate getting to a better place?” Well, now let’s see. In the whole process of business and life, generally, in our personal lives, sometimes things happen, and we feel like we need to have an important conversation with someone, for whatever reason. That might be when we’re afraid of offending them, or we think things need to get to a better place. What’s your recommendation about? How do you have a difficult conversation like that, where you make it productive, you end up in a good place, and that’s all about leadership? 

Scott Mautz: In “The Mentally Strong Leader,” there’s a tool where I talk about the importance of preparing for and conducting a difficult conversation, because there are two pieces of the pie there. In preparing for a conversation, there’s really important insight that I want listeners to understand, which is that the source of tension is what makes that conversation difficult to begin with, informs how you should prepare for that very conversation. Then, I’ll give you an example. So, in the book, I list multiple sources of tension that could happen from a difficult conversation; maybe you’re not familiar with a situation, maybe you feel like you don’t have control, maybe the relationship is bad. Here’s an example: Maybe the source of tension is the power structure, and that’s what’s going to make the conversation difficult—meaning, when you enter a tough conversation, one of three things is going to be happening, Steve. You either have more power than the person that you have to talk with, which means you’re going to be afraid of totally deflating them or totally intimidating them; you’re going to have less power than the person you have to have a tough discussion with, which means you might be really intimidated and never fully speak your mind. Or you’ve got to have the same amount of power, say it’s with a peer, you have to have a tough conversation. In that scenario, you might worry, “This is going to be tough because they don’t even have to listen to me, really; they don’t report to me, we don’t have a working relationship outside of work. We’re peers. This might not go well at all.” Knowing that source of tension informs how you should prepare, Steve.  

In all three of those cases, for example, the key is that you can’t change the power structure, you just have to commit to change your patterns within that power structure. For example, if you know you have to have a tough discussion with a boss, and you enter that discussion, and you know that whenever you have a conversation with your boss, you tend to clam up. You don’t really say what’s on your mind, you get intimidated, and you get into “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” mode, and you want to avoid that, you have to recognize that about yourself and change your patterns because you can’t change the reality of the power structure. So, that’s how you prepare for difficult conversations by understanding the source of tension. Now, before I talk about conducting the actual conversation, does that make sense and sound familiar to you, Steve, the existence of these sources of tension in a difficult conversation? 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, and it’s really about how you prepare so that you put other people at ease and can engage them in the discussion. So, it’s collaborative? 

Scott Mautz: That’s exactly right. In fact, to help that along, when you actually conduct—the second part of it—a difficult conversation, I encourage people to really acknowledge their responsibility and what makes the discussion tough, and to acknowledge their discomfort. There’s an opener that I often recommend people use—I talk about it in “The Mentally Strong Leader”—that you can use to open just about any difficult conversation. I wrote it down here. I encourage people to do this. Let’s say, Steve, you and I have to have a tough discussion about something, and I might open it like this: “Hey, Steve, I need to have a difficult conversation with you about [blank]. I want to acknowledge, Steve, that I’ve contributed to this situation by [blank]. I want you to know, having this discussion doesn’t come easy to me because [blank].” “Because I care about you or because I want to make this relationship better.” So, if you approach it by acknowledging responsibility and the messenger’s discomfort, the discussion becomes a lot easier. Then, I encourage people to do what I call “Press RECord,” which is an acronym: Remember, you’ve got to show Respect, Empathy, and Curiosity. By the way, when you press record, what are you doing? You’re imagining that you’re recording yourself in this difficult conversation. If somebody is watching the video later, you want to make sure that you come across in that difficult conversation with Respect, Empathy, and Curiosity, that you’re really willing to listen to the other person. There are other tips in “The Mentally Strong Leader” on how to continue and have a really great discussion, even though it’s a difficult one. It’s a key skill because it’s a key part of becoming mentally stronger. 

Steve Shallenberger: And then, how do you then join together to come up with a great outcome, because that’s really where you want to end up in the first place. I’m always in total shock at how fast these interviews go. We’re at the end already, and I’ve loved your ideas and your thoughts. I’m going to love reading your book and listening to your book. Will it come out on Audible when it comes out? 

Scott Mautz: Indeed, it will. The book comes out May 7th, and I think it’ll be out on Audible a week after that. 

Steve Shallenberger: That’s coming right up; you’ve got to be excited about that. 

Scott Mautz: I’m really excited about it. I really do believe that mental strength is the leadership superpower of our time. It’s how achievers achieve; it’s what makes great leaders great, especially in today’s work world. I’m really excited to get it out there into the world.  

Steve Shallenberger: Any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners before we wrap up today? 

Scott Mautz: I think just to remember that while mental strength is by definition regulating your emotions, your thoughts, and your behaviors for productive outcomes, even in adversity, I don’t want the listeners, Steve, to feel intimidated by that because it is really true, the opposite of mentally strong is not mentally weak; we all already have a baseline that we can build from. You just have to know how to build the right mental muscles with the right habit-building tools, which is why I wrote and worked so hard on “The Mentally Strong Leader.” I don’t want your listeners to be intimidated by it. Using the book, you’re going to have a real plan that you can put together—actually, what I call a MAP, a Mental Action Plan—that allows you to have a customized mental strength training program. 

Steve Shallenberger: Terrific. How can people find out about what you’re doing, Scott? 

Scott Mautz: Go to ScottMautz.com. I put together a free gift for your listeners today, Steve. If they go to ScottMautz.com/MentallyStrongGift, they can download a free 60-page PDF, which includes the mental strength self-assessment if you want to get a head start on it and find out how you score on mental strength and each one of those six mental muscles. It includes prompts in there to help you get the most out of the book “The Mentally Strong Leader.” 

Steve Shallenberger: Thanks so much, Scott, for being part of the Becoming Your Best show today. Loved your ideas. Wish you the best in all that you’re doing.

Scott Mautz: Thank you so much, Steve. Thanks for what you’re doing. Keep on doing it; it helps us all be our best.

Steve Shallenberger: Thanks so much. To our listeners, so grateful to have you with us today. Hopefully, you found something that you can apply right away, and we admire you for your dedication to trying to be better at what you do. Love this focus on good, better, and best, and it’s never-ending. So, you’re touching people every single day. This is Steve Shallenberger signing off. Have a good day. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, Entrepreneur, and Community Leader

Scott Mautz

Founder and CEO at Profound Performance

Founder and CEO at Profound Performance, Keynote Speaker, Author

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