FAMED American football coach Vince Lombardi bellowed that "mental toughness is essential to success".

He said: "You never win a game unless you beat the guy in front of you. The score on the board doesn't mean a thing. That's for the fans. You've got to win the war with the man in front of you. You've got to get your man."

Can you imagine what it takes to get to the top of the game, your profession, your company, your industry or your niche?

Mental toughness is definitely one of the keys, suggests Mr Denis Gianoutsos, global head for leadership and executive development at a leading Fortune 100 information technology multinational corporation.

According to the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:

n Cope better than your opponents with the many demands such as training, lifestyle and head-to-head competition that are placed on world-class performers.

n Be more consistent and better than your opponents at remaining determined, focused, confident and in control under pressure.

Corporate athletes

Mr Gianoutsos adds that world-class athletes like Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els have their counterparts in the workplace such as Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

One major difference is that athletes have a specific, more structured schedule to attend to while entrepreneurs or corporate leaders have a schedule that tends to be 24/7, 365 days a year, that can span not only five or 10 years - an average for professional athletes - but for two, three or four decades.

The toll on the corporate athlete is often more extreme than the sports athlete, and many of these corporate athletes do not have the support, infrastructure or resources to perform at their peak levels, especially the middle-level executives looking to make it to the top.

Research suggests that the four key components of mental toughness are:

1. Self-belief

Leading entrepreneurs and top athletes must display an unshakeable belief in their ability to achieve their competition goals. They have unique qualities and abilities that make them better than their opponents.

2. Motivation

Top performers have an ability to bounce back from performance or market setbacks with an increased determination to succeed.

Corporate athlete Ray Kroc shares numerous stories in his autobiography, Grinding It Out, of his trials and tribulations in building, stretching and systemising the McDonald's winning formula of selling fast food.

He faced many failures throughout his career as a salesman, and it was self-belief and self-motivation that saw him through the difficult times.

Mr Kroc is a classic example of an ordinary man who, thanks to an insatiable desire and motivation to succeed, went on to do extraordinary things.

3. Focus

Need a visual image of focus and intensity?

Close your eyes and imagine watching Tiger Woods, wearing his red sweater, on the 18th hole with a one- stroke lead at the British Open.

That is focus and intensity personified. World-class performers remain fully focused on the task that they face. They are not distracted by others and have an amazing ability to turn focus on and off as required.

4. Handling pressure

The final component of mental toughness is that top performers thrive on pressure and rise to the occasion.

Basketball phenomenon Michael Jordan relished the opportunity to take the last shot of the game. Throughout his career, he won more than two-thirds of the games with his last-second heroics.

Jordan said: "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why...I succeed.

"To make it to the top, a leader must be willing to experience the valleys to enjoy the peaks!"

A dose of confidence

Mr William Reed, a 7th-dan black belt in Aikido, author and renowned speaker, says two other key concepts come into play in mental toughness and high-level performance - self-esteem and self-confidence.

According to Mr Reed, self-confidence is the trust people have in themselves to deliver in specific circumstances.

Self-confidence is often task-specific and is more easily and immediately influenced by external conditions. The key to success is that self-confidence is focused on process and results.

Self-esteem, he adds, is how you value yourself as a human being and is greatly influenced by your internal dialogue.

Self-esteem comes from self-talk and self-image. It is the determining factor in how you interpret your experiences, and the steering mechanism for your success.

Taken all together, mental toughness, self-esteem and self-confidence will equip today's corporate and sports athletes with the psychological wiring to remain in the game and reach the summit.