Is success simply a matter of working hard and being in the right place at the right time? Or is who you know more important than what you know? Why is it that some people seem to ride the easy wave to success and others fail miserably for no good reason? Don’t you wonder? I do.
So with great expectations, I dove into Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s 2004 book, Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End, to find the answers. She not only met my expectations, but she exceeded them a hundred times over with a fresh and powerful outlook on how to become and stay a winner in the world of business. Here's what I discovered.
Winning streaks: Why they start
According to Kanter, forward-thinking leaders create a foundation for confidence that permits people to achieve high levels of performance, and do it as part of a successful team. She says every time you win, your confidence is increased. Winning begets winning, because it produces confidence at four levels:
- Self-confidence: The result of an emotional climate of aiming high and expecting to reach the target.
- Confidence in one another: This is fostered by positive, supportive, team-oriented behavior that makes people more engaged with their tasks and with one another.
- Confidence in the system: This makes it possible to transmit problem-solving and team-enhancing behavior to new people and keep the winning streak going.
- External confidence: Driven by a network to provide resources that attract media attention, financial backers and opinion leader support.
Winning streaks are characterized by truth-telling, continuity and continued investment. Success is neither magic nor dumb luck; it stems from a great deal of consistent hard work to perfect each detail—it is even a little mundane. Win, go back to work, win again. That’s just a tiny morsel of Kanter’s practical, down-to-earth observations and brilliance.
Winning streaks: Why they end
If winners accumulate so many advantages, why do cycles of success ever end? Winning is hard work, says Kanter. It is never easy or automatic. Winners make mistakes and encounter troubles all the time without falling off the edge. Winners experience problems and must solve them. Winning streaks are punctuated by struggles, but a loss, should it occur, is a crossroads, not a cliff. She claims that every aspect of life is filled with dangers (she references, for example, September 11).
So why do winning streaks end? Several factors are involved, but for brevity's sake, I’ll touch on only a few. If confidence fuels winning, arrogance can destroy it. Arrogance—along with denial, lack of accountability, cover up, enemy blaming, and a host of other issues Kanter addresses extensively—makes people lose sight of reality as they fly high in their fantasies, and when they are no longer grounded, they are tempted to panic at the first signs of trouble.
When winners keep their heads under pressure, they are better equipped to recover from fumbles. But when they become complacent, take winning for granted, begin to believe with little evidence that they can succeed in untested realms, and neglect to mine the foundations supporting them, then winners begin to lose.
Kanter goes on to say that even a great company can slip off the pattern of success. That is always the danger when the foundations of confidence crumble. Confidence is not just putting your best foot forward; it comes from having something solid to stand on. When people let the disciplines go, when they let the support system crumble, when they stop investing in one another, when they stop taking responsibility themselves, that’s when they start promising things they cannot deliver. And that is when winning streaks end.
Losing Streaks: Why they persist
Ever been on a roll with your business where you feel invincible? No matter what you touch, it turns to gold? And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a zinger comes your way that totally disrupts your life and your business? Kanter addresses this, too. She says past performance shifts expectations, and expectations can often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.
Losing streaks create pressure and are characterized by disruption and lack of investment. They tempt people to behave in ways that erode their ability to solve problems and cause them to lose confidence in themselves, in one another, and in their leaders. When losses continue, often as a direct result of blame, turf protection or passivity, something larger occurs. Once the “loser” label is slapped on, those suffering losses are set up to fail. They find it harder to get support and opportunity. They are targeted, pressured, distracted, punished, second-guessed, shunned, marginalized, ruled against, starved or tempted to cut corners. Despair can cause acts of desperation.
Kanter claims that sometimes even talented people just can’t seem to win, no matter what.
How to break out and master a turnaround
How do you deal with or stop a losing streak? Kanter says face the facts, reinforce responsibility, cultivate collaboration and inspire confidence. When people stop talking, stop practicing and stop trying—or become more accustomed to finding fault than facing facts—accountability goes out the window and a losing streak persists.
The only way to get a winning streak back is to re-develop the accountability—practice discipline and embrace responsibility at the highest level of excellence. That builds self-confidence, confidence in others and confidence that the whole system can deliver on its promises.
Finally, one victory does not make a turnaround. It takes much more than that to unwind a losing streak; a great deal of behavior has to change on the part of many people, well beyond the individuals themselves, says Kanter.
If you want to win, if you want your team to win and you want your business to win for the rest of your life, then you need to get and keep confidence, says Kanter. Her book just might be the ticket to achieving it.
What have you done to find success?