Confidence consists of positive expectations for favourable outcomes. Failure and success are not events—they are self-fulfilling pathways.

To every action that we take, there is a corresponding outcome. Failures and successes are judgements given to outcomes in relations to our intents. There may be outcomes that appear which have no relation to our intents, however, we could learn from as they may things we have not thought of. It is in this sense that I read Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s self fulfilling pathways.

Confidence is the word. One of the elements I found that  probably is the cause of so much pain suffered by the poor of the poorest of the Mauritians society, after working for a couple of years with the ONGs is precisely the lack of self esteem and self confidence in the capacity to progress. The poor of the poorest nurture the self fulfilling prophecy of their inability to get out of their conditions.

At Caritas, with a team,  we worked out schemes to enhance the self esteem of the poor by starting a listening service. On a second phase we then slower worked towards  enhancing their self confidence.

We would be far from the winning streaks titled by R Moss Kanter but surely we would be heading in the right direction.

Winning Streaks



How do winning and losing streaks begin and end? Using research and case studies, I came up with a surprising answer—confidence. Confidence is the pivotal driver behind high performance, successful relationships, and teams that consistently win. I use the expression “water walkers” to describe people with high potential who are destined to gain top positions.

Confidence consists of positive expectations for favorable outcomes. Failure and success are not events—they are self-fulfilling pathways. Each decision, each business quarter, each school year may seem like a new event, but the next performance is shaped by what happened last time—unless something breaks the streak.

Three Critical Behaviors

My investigation of success and failure in companies, nonprofit institutions, athletic teams, and political races discerns three critical behaviors in people who work in cultures of confidence at high-performing organizations:

· They are accountable. They want to share information, take responsibility, and seek feedback and self-improvement because they are committed.

· They collaborate. They want to work together, help others, and feel a sense of belonging that makes them committed to the success of the entire enterprise.

· They take initiative. Since they believe that what they do will make a difference, they offer ideas and suggestions and feel empowered to foster innovation.

Moreover, these confident leaders institutionalize confidence by giving people a chance to tackle projects, succeed at those projects, and feel that they have made a major contribution. That makes people feel valued. It makes them feel that their contribution is worth something. And that feeling gives them the energy and motivation to go forward. It provides leaders with an opportunity, grounded in reality, to recognize and applaud people. Positive accomplishments lift everybody’s spirit.

And yet many performance evaluations tend to be based on personality and chemistry rather than on achievements. That’s a problem in terms of building confidence, because it makes too many things dependent on favoritism—who happens to be liked by whom. On losing teams, coaches tend to play favorites. On the winning teams, you get what your performance merits.

Of course, some leaders try to project external confidence to cover up problems. They resort to bravado or swagger to hide problems—usually when confidence has slid into that danger zone of overconfidence or arrogance.

Real confidence is grounded in three cornerstones—accountability, collaboration, and initiative. If accountability starts to slide because leaders cover up the facts or manipulate the numbers, then they are not being accountable. And if they don’t admit it and solve the underlying problems right away, they are not being accountable. So, whatever appearance they project to others is not true confidence grounded in the substance that would make success likely. It’s a false presentation of self, and I don’t think it’s the self-confidence of a leader anyway. The projection of charisma on the part of the leader who makes the difference is whether the leader creates a system that is accountable, that allows people to get together quickly to solve problems and take initiative to act on potential shocks or surprises. That’s what Enron lacked—they started to hide certain information.

I talk about confidence as the “sweet spot” between despair and arrogance. It’s that sweet spot that says, “We’ve got to work for a positive result; and when we do the work, we are confident we’ll succeed because we’re confident in the data, confident in the responsibility people take, and confident in each other. We have a collective goal, and people are not making side deals behind the scenes.”

Many people tell me that they feel that they are on a losing streak—losing people, losing capability, and losing viability. They are sliding away from confidence toward insecurity and feeling that “there is nothing we can do about it.” Leaders must guard against arrogance and over-confidence on one hand, and the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness on the other.

In my study, I found many examples of successful turnarounds. Turn-around leaders tend to be one of two types: 1) people who slash to the bone and save the organization financially, but leave nobody standing; or 2) people who realize that cost-cutting is a temporary solution and start rebuilding. Turnaround leaders must make tough decisions, but also believe in the potential of the organization and give people a vision of that potential.

One of my favorite leaders is Jackie Jenkins-Scott, former president of a community health center (she is now a college president). She came in to turn the center around when it was in bankruptcy. A receiver appointed by the court was busily trying to cut costs; morale was low; and the quality of the service was getting worse. First, Jackie convinced the judge to get rid of the receiver. She saw potential where he had only seen things to cut. She saw a way to raise revenues. For example, the center had historic buildings, and so she got those designated as historical landmarks and reached out to new donors. She believed in the people, so she gave the people a better work environment. They returned her faith by boosting productivity and by finding new sources of revenue—people who could pay for services, for example.

You either find somebody who cuts costs and slashes to the bone and just accepts the fact that sales are declining and plans around a smaller organization, or you find somebody who says, “There is great potential here. There are new services we could offer. Yes, we must get costs under control, or we won’t survive; but we’ll do that against a vision and long-term goal, because I have confidence in our future.”

Leaders build confidence and advance to victory. They see the potential and get other people to see the potential while they are making tough moves. But when they make a tough decision, they have the support of the people, because it’s done with a vision of success in the future.

Consistently successful leaders treat losses as temporary events rather than descents into downward spirals. They have resilience, and resilience separates winners from losers, because even winners lose games, have bad quarters, see temporary slips in sales.

Resilience is the ability to deal with those issues. If confidence is not just a belief in the minds of the people but also the culture of the organization, you can bounce back quickly. If people are communicating, sharing performance data, and knowing the facts of the situation, they can solve problems faster because they are collaborating. Everybody can do their part if they trust and respect people in other departments, and they have an experience of taking initiative through small projects and new ventures that build an ovation. Such people spring into action and make a difference—often without being told to do it.

When power went out in the Northeast for two days in August 2003, and every other airline canceled hundreds of flights—thereby losing millions of dollars—Continental not only kept flying but ended up making money in the disaster. Their employees rallied together to do whatever needed to be done to keep the airplanes flying. That freed up top executives to ask, “Are there any other services we could provide during this period?” They offered extra flights for all the stranded passengers and ended up making money.

That is a dramatic example of where a company wins because they had created a culture of confidence.

To the extent that the organization succeeds, it’s easier to attract and retain exceptional talent, because they want to be associated with success. Make sure they understand that their success and reputation are enhanced when the team wins. Show these stars that they will gain more and have more impact if they also support other people, build stronger relationships, and help the team win consistently.

December 2008

The above text from Leadership Excellence,  is an article which would summarise  her 2004 book: “Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End”.