Welles: Finding confidence

Joe Gibbs, coach of the Washington Redskins, could have written the book, but Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and former Harvard Business Review editor, did. What she advises in "Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End" is what could be happening to the football team and what she thinks could happen in government, too.

The premise is that regardless of talent, people in organizations and on teams succeed when leaders help them gain the confidence to rise to the occasion.

In a study of two-dozen sports teams and a survey of hundreds of corporate executives, Kanter found that, in small and large enterprises, leaders brought ailing systems back to health by restoring confidence. Confidence, she said in a recent book discussion, has three cornerstones: accountability, collaboration and initiative. Where there is a lack of accountability, there are bad habits. Without teamwork, infighting occurs. Where there is no belief in change, people take no initiative to make change happen.

The keys to building confidence are to invest in people, create a common goal and encourage initiative. Small things can make a difference. In the case of Continental Airlines Inc., chief financial officer Larry Kellner, who will become chief executive officer in January 2005, rewarded employees for the turnaround of the near-bankrupt company with profit sharing of $65 each. It was enough to make employees feel they could count on the company and their colleagues to achieve success.

Government managers, Kanter said, should look for "whatever discretionary budgets may exist and spend it on what will help people." Focusing on small wins and actions individuals can take helps people gain confidence that goals are achievable and can encourage initiative.

In addition to setting achievable goals, she calls for more communication and creating a collective definition of success that encourages people to rely on one another. "The real difference between winners and losers is how they handle problems," Kanter said. "The best winning teams are not those with superstars, but those who work together."

"Confidence is the bridge between expectations and performance," Kanter said. "It includes the climate created around the person."

Finally, confidence creates good feelings, and good moods are contagious.

Her book, published by Crown Business, provides rich examples of techniques leaders use to instill confidence. It studies the successes and failures at companies such as Continental Airlines, the BBC and Verizon, and sports teams such as the University of North Carolina women's soccer team, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. It also includes the example of Nelson Mandela as a model for resolving conflicts in trouble spots such as the Middle East.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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