How leaders gain (and lose) confidence

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download


  • Winter 2005 21

    E X E C U T I V E F O R U M

    Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the author or coauthor of many best-selling books, is the Ernest L.A r bu ckle Professor of Business A d m i n i s t ration at Harva rd Business Sch o o l .As an ad-viser to major corp o rations and gove rnments worldw i d e, she has served as a member ofthe Board of Overseers for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality A wa rd , is a Fellow of theWorld Economic Forum,and serves on U. S.S e c r e t a ry of Labor Elaine Chaos task force on the skillsgap for the 21st Century Work Force Council. She recently received the A c a d e my of Manage-m e n t s Distinguished Career A wa rd for her contri butions to management and the World Te l e p o rtA s s o c i a t i o n s Intelligent Community V i s i o n a ry of the Year A wa rd .

    Leader to Leader recently talked to her about her latest book, Condence: How WinningStreaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End, which has just been released. Condence ex-plains how leaders can sustain winning streaks and turn around losing streakswith evidencefrom businesses, major league sports teams, inner-city schools, and political leaders.

    L2L: Why condence? Dont leaders understand the importance of con-dence in this day and age?

    R M K : The wo rd c o n d e n c e is used often but rarely unders t o o d . I set about to decon-s t ruct it, to understand what lies behind it.C o n dence is often thought of as an attri bu t eof a pers o n : for leaders that means whether the leader has self-cond e n c e.We also usethat wo rd in a broader sense: C o n dence in the economy. C o n dence in the leader-ship of the country. But we have n t made the connection between that broad sense ofwhether people have condence in their leader and the self-condence of the leader.So I set about to understand this linkage, and what I discove red is that while manyl e a d e rs have self-cond e n c e, the most important thing is whether they have con-dence in o t h e r people and there f o re create the conditions in which the people theylead can get the work done.

    A N I N T E R V I E W W I T H

    R O S A B E T H M O S S K A N T E R

    How Leaders Gain (and Lose)

    C o n d e n c e

    For bulk reprints of this article, please call 201-748-8771.

  • Leader to Leader22

    L 2 L : Sometimes leaders hire motivational speak-e rs to come in and rally the tro o p s , but that is notwhat yo u re talking ab o u t , I take it?

    R M K : C o n dence is more than emptypep talk.T h e re was a movement in Cali-fornia to build self-esteem because some-body had decided schoolchildren did noth ave enough self-esteem.You dont bu i l dself-esteem by patting people on the backand telling them they re wo n d e r f u l . C o n-dence is a much more complex phenom-enon that comes from experiencing onesstrengths in action.

    L2L: What is condence, anyway?

    R M K : C o n dence is the expectation ofs u c c e s s . When you expect success, you arewilling to put in the effort to achieve it. I t sc o n dence that attracts investmentnot justm o n ey, but time, e n e r g y, l oya l t y, and com-m i t m e n t . U l t i m a t e l y, what makes a differ-ence in performance is whether people putin the effortand often the extra effort to sustain success.When people have con-dence they are willing to invest and it is thei nvestment that leads to action that cre a t e shigh perform a n c e. So condence is a cri t i-cal missing link.The reason I love sports somuch is that you can see it clearly in games.The winner is often behind . . . t h ey some-times fumble . . . t h ey sometimes lose the ball. . . t h ey sometimes miss a shot and they ke e pg o i n g . T h ey pers i s t , t h ey learn from theirm i s t a ke s , t h ey learn from their experi e n c e,and that is what condence makes possibl e.

    L 2 L : Tell us about the three corn e rstones ofcondence.

    RMK: Condence is not simply in peoples headsand as I said earlier, it is not the pep talk from theleader. Because pep talk without a solid foundation tostand on means nothing. Pep talks without evidence of

    the possibility of success, of high perfor-m a n c e, a re empty and meaningless. As Isaid, the most important thing that leaderscan do is show condence in other people.When that condence is bestowed on peo-p l e, that begins to help make it possible forthem to perform and it gives them a foun-d a t i o n . So there are three corn e rstones ofc o n d e n c e : a c c o u n t a b i l i t y, c o l l a b o r a t i o n ,and initiative.

    L2L: We are hearing a lot about cor-porate accountability these days.

    R M K : By a c c o u n t a b i l i t y I mean more thanjust the current corporate and gove rn m e n tbu z z wo rds about counting the money cor-re c t l y. I mean taking personal re s p o n s i b i l i t y :seeing where ones responsibility lies, fa c i n git square l y, facing facts honestly, being abl eto admit mistakes quickly and do somethingabout them. Accountability comes fro mh o n e s t , accurate facts and knowing what re-sponsibility a person can take for acting inlight of those fa c t s . Accountability prov i d e sa rm foundation for cond e n c e.You canbe condent in leaders if you know that thel e a d e rs are telling you the tru t h . If they aretaking re s p o n s i b i l i t y, then you in turn cant a ke re s p o n s i b i l i t y. As a leader you build ac-countability around your people.You put thefacts on the tabl e.You hold up the mirror ofa c c o u n t a b i l i t y.You show people where their

    p e r f o rmance ts in that range of fa c t s .

    L2L: Lets move on to the second cornerstone.

    Rosabeth Moss Kanteris an intern at i o n a l ly

    k n own business leader,best-selling author, a n de x p e rt on strat e gy, i n-n ovat i o n , and leader-ship for change . S h e

    a dvises major corp o ra-tions and gove rn m e n t swo rl dw i d e , and is au-thor or coauthor of 15b o o k s, i n cluding herl at e s t , C o n d e n c e :

    H ow Winning Streaksand Losing StreaksBegin and End.

    Other awa rd - w i n n i n gbest-sellers incl u d e

    E vo l ve! Succeeding in the Digital Cultureof To m o rr ow, T h eC h a n ge Masters,

    When Giants Learnto Dance, and Wo rl dC l a s s : T h riving Lo-c a l ly in the Global

    E c o n o my.

  • Winter 2005 23

    R M K : The second is c o l l a b o ra t i o n . Te a m wo r k . S u p p o rt .C o n dence builds when you feel you can count on thepeople around you and when they feel they count onyo u . It is as simple as that. Some of this is a clear part oft e a m wo r k . But whats important is not whether you doeve rything together as a gro u p, it is whether you knowwhat other people are capable of.You respect other peo-ple for their stre n g t h s .You know that you can count onthem to do their part and in turn they know they cancount on yo u . So condence builds when you have thatfaith in the people around you and it erodes when yo us ay,We l l , t h ey re never going to do their part , Ill have doit my s e l f. I cant trust them. Id o n t respect them.When peo-ple start saying that, t h ey dis-engage from one another andp e r f o rmance deteri o r a t e s . S ol e a d e rs have to build the chemis-t ry of collaboration. That oftensounds like a clich becauseeve rybody talks about bu i l d i n gt e a m s ,but I think that what I didin my book, by showing howthis happens at eve ry level fro mc o m munity agencies to big com-panies to sport teams to wholec o u n t ri e s , is improve our under-standing of what helps peoplefeel that they can rely on the people around them.

    One of the most dramatic stories I tell in the book isabout how Continental Airlines managed to keep y i n gd u ring the wo rst power bl a c kout in A m e rican history,when the whole Northeast power grid went out in A u-gust of last ye a r.When power was down in two of theirt h ree major airp o rt s , C l eveland and Newa r k , t h ey man-aged to coordinate this complex effort of ying theplanes any way. And they we re able to do it because allt h ree corn e rstones we re in place: a c c o u n t a b i l i t y, c o l l a b-o r a t i o n , and initiative. But it was the quality of collabo-

    ration that was key. These we re people who we re noteven seeing each other fa c e - t o - fa c e.But they knew howto coordinate their actions and how to take personal re-s p o n s i b i l i t y, because they knew that other people in thesystem would also be taking pro d u c t ive actions. T h eyhad respect for one another and that translated into anamazing act of coord i n a t i o n . This is not about teambuilding in the sense of l e t s get together and have a pepr a l l y.M a ny of these people hadnt even met each other.But they had been doing their work with an awa re n e s sof the strength that other people possessand the fullc o n dence that anybody who was working for Conti-

    nental would share the sameoverall goals and be a person ofgreat quality and ability.

    L2L: And the third corner-stone?

    RMK: The third cornerstone,which also helped Continentalin the bl a c ko u t , is i n i t i a t i ve. U n-less there is permission and en-couragement for people to takeinitiative and feel that their ac-tions can make a differe n c et h e re is no condence in thes y s t e m , in each other, in leaders .

    Leaders dont do it all by themselves. One of the mostdevastating comments I heard made by any of the tope xe c u t ives in my re s e a rch was in a company in decline.The chief exe c u t ive and the company we re having re a lproblems and he would yell at the people on his exec-u t ive team and the managers below them. He wo u l ds ay,W hy do I have to have all the good ideas?T h i n kabout how many negative messages about initiative arecontained in that. F i rst of all, he is denying that any-body else is thinking or contri bu t i n g . S e c o n d l y, he iss aying anything they do wo n t be good enough. T h eupshot was the people stopped contributing.They did

    Ultimately, what makes

    a difference in performance is whether people put

    in the effort.

  • Leader to Leader24

    The Real Secre to fL e a d e r s h i p

    Sometimes it seems as if there areonly two states of being: boom orbust. When things are up, it feels as if they will always be up.People cometo believe they can succeed at any-thing they try, companies pro f f e rgrand visions of innova t ive future s ,and investment is easy to attract.When things are dow n , it seems as ift h ey will always be dow n .T h a t s howd e p ressed people feel; t h a t s whyrecession-dominated economiesnd re c ove ry elusive ; t h a t s whyteams or businesses or schools canstay in decade-long slumps.

    A ny company, a ny gro u p, a ny pers o ncan be swept along by one of thesef o rtunate or unfortunate cycles.W h a tcauses them to rise or to fall is oftena matter of cond e n c e. C o n d e n c eis the bridge connecting expectationsand perform a n c e, i nvestment and re-s u l t s . It is a familiar term used eve ryd ay to indicate future prospects in awide va riety of circ u m s t a n c e s t h es e l f - c o n dence of athletes, c o n s u m e rc o n dence in the economy, p u b-lic c o n dence in leaders , or votes ofno condence at board meetings.

    But self-condence is not the re a ls e c ret of leaders h i p. The more es-sential ingredient is condence inother people. L e a d e rship invo l ve smotivating others to their nest ef-f o rts and channeling those efforts in

    a coherent dire c t i o n . L e a d e rs mu s tb e l i eve they can count on otherpeople to come thro u g h . If the peo-ple in charge rely only on them-selves as heroes who can rescue anys i t u a t i o n , while focusing on otherp e o p l e s inadequacies, t h ey under-mine condence and reinforce los-ing stre a k s . In contrast, when leadersbelieve in other people, condencegrows, and winning becomes moreattainable.

    Delivering Condence

    L e a d e rship is not about the leader; i tis about how the leader builds thec o n dence of eve ryone else. L e a d e rsd e l iver condence by espousing highs t a n d a rds in their messages, e xe m p l i-fying these standards in the conductt h ey model, and establishing form a lmechanisms to provide a stru c t u refor acting on those standard s .

    Espouse: The Power of Message

    L e a d e rs articulate standard s , va l u e s ,and visions.T h ey give pep talks.T h e i rmessages can incite to action whenthat is appro p ri a t e, or they can calmand soothe people to prevent themf rom panicking. In the strong culture sthat develop in winning stre a k s , l e a d-e rs messages are internalized andecho throughout the system.

    Exemplify: The Power of Models

    L e a d e rs serve as role models, l e a d i n gt h rough the power of personal ex-a m p l e.The leaders I saw in winnings t reaks and turn a rounds sought toexemplify the kinds of accountable,c o l l a b o r a t ive behavior they soughtin others.

    Establish: The Power of FormalMechanisms

    Leaders develop processes, routines,and stru c t u re s .T h ey embed winners b e h avior in the culture not justt h rough pers o n - t o - p e rson and gen-eration-to-generation transfers ofn o rms but also through the form a lmechanisms that embed positive be-h avior in team and organizationalroutines.

    L e a d e rs must deliver condence ateve ry leve l : s e l f - c o n d e n c e, c o n -dence in each other, c o n dence inthe system, and the condence ofe xt e rnal inve s t o rs and the public thattheir support is wa rr a n t e d .By believ-ing in other people, t h ey make it pos-s i ble for others to believe in them.

    Adapted from Condence: How Winning Streaks andLosing Streaks Begin and End, by Rosabeth MossKanter. Copyright 2004 by Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

    Reprinted by permission of the Crown Publishing Group.

  • Winter 2005 25

    the minimum and thought about putting their rsumsout on the market and that was it.

    S u p p o rting initiative is important even in the most con-t rolled circ u m s t a n c e s such as a sports team that is out ona playing eld in a game that has ve ry xed rules and thecoach is giving instructions through headsets to the teamon the e l d . I still found that the winning team took morei n i t i a t ive.T h ey did things that they we re not told to do bythe coach and often they would tell the coach,We l lt a ke care of it, you dont have to wo rry about it, we seesome opport u n i t i e s .

    I n i t i a t ive leads to innova t i o n . I tleads to new ideas and it is a ne-cessity for all organizations todayto keep innova t i n g , but it is also ac o rn e rstone of cond e n c e. B e-cause it is that feeling of efc a c yon the part of people and that be-lief on the part of investors thats h ow this as an organizationthat will be able to solve pro b-lems. People need to be able tofeel that they are supported inbeing active, in making contri-bu t i o n s . Setting up an env i ro n-ment in which people can even take small steps wheret h ey feel that their small steps make a difference is cri t i-cal to creating a highly pro d u c t ive and condent system.People cant only be waiting for the big move, the bolds t ro kes that leaders make at the top. That doesnt bu i l dc o n dence in the whole system or in the people them-s e l ves in the system.What builds condence is that eve ry-one has something to contri bu t e, h owever small,h oweve rb i g , that can make a difference to outcomes.That is thet h i rd corn e rstone of cond e n c e.

    So in sum, people need to be supported on a founda-tion of accountability, which means, full and open dis-

    c l o s u re of honest inform a t i o n . T h ey need to be sup-p o rted on a foundation of collaboration, which meanspeople around them whose skills they respect and whot h ey know will operate in the best interest of the wholet e a m , not just for their own selsh purp o s e s .And peopleneed to be supported by initiative,which means the en-c o u r a g e m e n t , the perm i s s i o n , the re s o u rc e s , and the toolst h ey need to take steps that make a differe n c e. W h e nthese corn e rstones are in place people have full con-d e n c e. But when you dont have all the facts and whent h e re is no accountability in the system;when you donth ave people around you who you feel will support yo u ;when you dont have a feeling of efcacy and that yo u r

    actions make a differe n c e t h e nyou naturally lack cond e n c e.E m p l oyees wo n t invest time ande f f o rt . I nve s t o rs wo n t inve s t .D o n o rs wo n t donate.Fans wo n tshow up. And then condencedeclines even more.

    L 2 L : That leads to one ofthe most interesting themesin the book: your discussionof winning streaks and los-ing streaks.

    RMK: Condence grows in winning streaks.That is,c o n dence grows with the repeated experience of suc-cess and that makes it easier to use your skills next time.And condence decreases during losing streaks withthe experience of fa i l u re s , s e t b a c k s , f u m bl e s , and thatmakes it harder to have the condence to act.

    L 2 L : In a losing stre a k , the lack of cond e n c ebuilds on itself, in a vicious spiral. How does anorganization break out of that?

    R M K : Let me explain what I mean by losing streak. I ns p o rt s , it is ve ry clear: a losing streak means yo u ve lost

    All the successful

    leaders I studied knew how to touch the

    human conscience.

  • Leader to Leader26

    a series of games. But we all have losing streaks in ouro r g a n i z a t i o n s , even nonpro t and gove rnment agencieswhere there isnt a nancial measure of performance.You know that you are starting to lose support: fewerpeople are showing up at events, you are losing markets h a re, t h e re is a feeling that playe rs are starting to leave,all those things are symptoms of a spiral of decline. Ifyou dont stop it will get worse and worse and worsebecause losing feeds on itself.

    When condence erodes it gets harder and harder tocome back, so you often need to come back with newl e a d e rship that makes a fre s hs t a rt , and I think this is whenl e a d e rs matter most. In a win-ning stre a k , in a success spiralwhen everything is going well,it doesnt really matter who theCEO is, because there is posi-t ive momentum. Because thec u l t u re is positive and manypeople take responsibility.

    The time when leaders mattermost, when the quality of lead-e rship matters most, is whenyoure trying to reverse the de-cline and get off a losing streakand onto a winning stre a k . C o n dence has eroded in alosing streak and people dont believe that there is any-thing that will get them out of it. T h ey dont believethere is anything they can do individually, theyve lostfaith in the chief executive because, after all, he or shegot us into this in the rst place. In losing streaks thereis often a revolving door at the top and lots and lots ofn ew managers keep coming in and none of them makea difference.

    So new leaders work on those three corn e rstones ofcondence.

    F i rst of all they need to re s t o re accountability because ina losing streak that disappears .People dont face the fa c t s .Often the facts have been cove red up because some ex-e c u t ive wanted to cover his rear end, so to speak.T h eyd o n t disclose eve rything that is going on; t h ey bare l ywant to talk to each other. One of the rst things aleader needs to do is to put the facts on the table andhelp people cope with them. It has to be done in a waythat it doesnt make people feel punished.B l a m e, a n g e r,and revenge just perpetuate losing habits.

    Then you work on teamwork and collaboration. S o m e-times you simply put people in aroom tog e t h e r, a c ross parts ofthe organization that have neve rs p o ken to each other or theyh ave but its been hostile, n e g a-t ive, or withholding. You putthem in a room together andask them to work on largergoalshigher goals. That is thep a rt where we say, N ew lead-e rs need a vision. It isnt eve nso much that the leader needs toh ave the vision as to provide asense for people in the organi-zation that there is some higherp u rpose than ghting with each

    o t h e r.Then giving people permission to take small steps,small wins, t a ke initiative. In a losing streak people havebeen bl o c ke d , s t i e d , and caught in negativ i t y. L e a d e rsu n block that sometimes by investing in the people.

    L2L: How so?

    R M K : I was ve ry struck in my re s e a rch about howmuch a new chief exe c u t ive could accomplish simplyby shifting existing re s o u rces to give more to the peo-ple doing the work in the form of a better working en-v i ro n m e n t . Let me give you an example. I tell the story

    Leadership matters

    most when youre trying to get off

    a losing streak.

  • Winter 2005 27

    of a community health center that was in bankru p t c yand a new chief exe c u t ive came in who they thoughtwas going to help shut it dow n . Instead she found amaz-ing assets, good people, fantastic bu i l d i n g s , and a com-munity that was hungry for their serv i c e s . So she foundways to show people how va l u a ble they we re by rs txing pro blems in the physical env i ronment that af-fected them eve ry day. Fixing the things people seeeve ry day, coupled with open dialog u e, facts on the tabl e,and open solicitation of peoples ideas and support forsmall projects turned around the condence leve l . Pe o-ple began to have more condence and they began tosee more that they could do, and performance start e dto increase and support grew in the wider commu n i t y.

    My favo rite example of leadership to turn around nega-t ive and destru c t ive dynamics is Nelson Mandela, the rs tdemocratically elected president of South A f ri c a .He save da system that could have bl own up in violence after de-cades of oppre s s i o n .He wanted the facts on the tabl e.B u the knew that people would confess what they had doneonly if they could do so without fear of punishment.H esaid that people should come forwa rd and tell the tru t hbecause we must deal with the truth before we can makep rogre s s . So he established the Truth and Re c o n c i l i a t i o nC o m m i s s i o n , which was a re m a r k a ble thing to do. H ealso did things to build bridges between the races. Tobuild more collaboration,m o re mu l t i c u l t u r a l ,mu l t i r a c i a la c t ivities and eve n t s .Then he wo r ked to empower peo-ple by nding the re s o u rces to invest in new enterp ri s e sfor the black commu n i t i e s .So the three corn e rstones thatwork in companies, in community organizations, in mysmall sports teams also work on a on a national scale.

    L 2 L : Nelson Mandela is truly inspiri n g .He seemsto be a perfect example of something you said

    in the book that I really thought was intere s t i n g .You said leaders who build condence combines t ru c t u re and soul. Can you expand on that?

    R M K : T h e re is both a hard and a soft side to leaders h i pand the corn e rstones of condence that Ive talke dabout are built in part by hard stuff, c o n c rete things, i n-stitutional mechanisms. A c c o u n t a b i l i t y facing thefactsmeans data and measurement and perform a n c ea p p r a i s a l . Collaboration means the actual stru c t u ring ofteams and building an organization where people movea c ross boundari e s . I n i t i a t ive often re q u i res formal pro-grams to solicit ideas and rewa rd people for their con-t ri bu t i o n s . So the formal institutional mechanisms aren e e d e d , but there is also a softer side to leaders h i p, w h a tI call the soul of leaders h i p. I noticed that all the suc-cessful leaders that I studied, whether it was a CEO ofGillette or Nelson Mandela of South A f rica or the chiefe xe c u t ive of a bank in Tu r key, whom I adore. T h eycould deal with large nu m b e rs of people and set up thef o rmal systems and stru c t u re s , but they also knew howto touch the human conscience.E ven Billy Beane, g e n-eral manager of the Oakland A s baseball team,who hasbecome famous as the star of the book M o n e y b a l l , wa sk n own for the nu m b e rs , the statistics, the analysis, ye tBilly Beane, along with the CEO of Gillette, the pre s i-dent of South A f r i c a , the president of my bank inTu r key, we re all known for a human touch. For gettingto know peoples names. For being fun to be with. Fo rsending somebody a note to tell them that they we redoing a good job. For bothering to learn about peoplesi n t e rests and having a conve rsation with them abouttheir intere s t s . It is the human touches combined withall the formal systems that builds cond e n c e, b e c a u s eultimately condence comes from the belief that yo up e rsonally are supported and cared about.