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Alpha Notes

Marketing Hints for Clients of Alpha Associates

Confidence and Success

Confidence is the name of a book authored by Rosabeth Moss Kanter. She is a well-known professor at Harvard Business School and former editor of Harvard Business Review. In addition to many other credits, she is a trusted advisor to CEOs of major corporations, leaders in government, as well as nonprofit organizations. She has authored a somewhat unusual book that presents the results of a long-term study of winning streaks and losing streaks of sports teams, corporations, government agencies and other entities to determine the common factors that produce success. In summary, her conclusion is that a key element is CONFIDENCE. And she reinforces this conclusion in a variety of environments.

How do winning streaks start and stop? What are the contributing factors to winning and losing at any level? This is a broad topic indeed, but she is definitely up to the task. From companies like Continental Airlines, and Verizon to sport teams such as The New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles; from The BBC in the UK to apartheid in South Africa; from senior management at Gillette to the women's soccer team at the University of North Carolina; from retail giants like Target and Kmart to Disney, Dr. Kanter finds common ground to explain winning streaks and losing streaks. With phrases like "the timidity of mediocrity and the undertow of defeat," she examines all sides of the equation!

I want to be careful not to over-simplify her analysis, but winning begets winning and losing tends to continue unless certain factors interrupt the process. Building confidence through success and reinforcing success through multilevel and even cultural processes tends to engender the attitudes that naturally flow from that experience. For our purposes, how do we engender confidence and success in a business environment? One interesting trait she isolates is LEADERSHIP.

How do leaders act to start building this confidence? Here is how leaders act and what they do.

  • Leaders articulate standards, values and visions.
  • Leaders serve as role models; they lead by example.
  • Leaders develop processes, routines and structures.
  • Leadership is plural - it must be multilayered for long-term success - leaders support leadership - this includes individual accountability.

Dr. Kanter concludes that effective leaders in any environment usually do the following:

  • Foster straight talk.
  • Communicate expectations clearly.
  • Make information transparent and accessible.

It strikes me that the elements noted above are an excellent litmus test that we all could take regarding just what type of leadership we are providing in initiating and sustaining long-term, successful programs in our company.

Dr. Kanter has many more practical recommendations for creating and sustaining winning streaks that could well be applied in most companies. There are far too many to do them justice in this brief newsletter. An interesting aspect of Confidence is that what would appear to be a very logical and obvious conclusion, namely that confidence is a key element in success, becomes a very interesting read, as she brings this thesis to many successful companies and programs included in her study. Once again, the book is entitled Confidence, published by Crown Business. My guess is that you will find more than a few ideas here that you can apply in leading your company to its appropriate level of success through confidence!