Summer Book Review #16: Confidence

“Today is just the beginning, it’s where you go from here that matters,” said David McCullough, Jr., a high school english teacher from Wellesley, MA and a faculty commencement speaker.  His words were powerful and more sophisticated than anything I heard at 18.  He went on, “I urge you to do whatever you do for no other reason than you love it and you believe in its importance.”   Mr. McCullough engaged my spirit with his directives…worthwhile whether you stand at commencement or in a transition somewhere post graduation.

The McCullough speech caught my eye as I was reading Rosabeth Moss Kanter‘s Confidence: How Winning Strategies & Losing Streaks Begin & End While unspoken it seemed to me that Mr. McCullough’s wish for the 2012 Wellesley High Graduating Class could be summed up in one word, confidence.  To have the confidence to ‘pursue that which you love for no other reason than you believe in its importance.’

Moss Kanter wrote Confidence after analyzing the losing streaks and winning streaks of major sports teams, a few select corporations and a nation, namely South Africa.  Remember Novofemina’s coverage of Invictus, a 2009 movie featuring Nelson Mandela’s triumphant early days as a leader of a divided South Africa?  Moss Kanter used that too.

She concludes that repetitive patterns emerge from assessing both the upside and the downside to team behaviors.   She like McCullough wishes for her constituents a single bold stroke, confidence.  But for Moss Kanter, confidence is gained through a disciplined set of behaviors not achievement of an emotional state of mind.

  • Confidence as defined by Moss Kanter is “the expectation of a positive outcome.” (Confidence, pg 8)  That is it. Simply that.  She goes on to say that “confidence has to do with the relationship between expectations and performance.”  She suggests that those who believe in themselves try harder and longer.  (Confidence, pg 39)   “People with confidence stay in the game no matter what,” says Moss Kanter.  (Confidence, pg 351)  Her treatise is really that confidence hails to those who are willing to undertake, “a great deal of consistent hard work.”  (Confidence, pg 62)
  • Moss Kanter proposes that the cornerstones of confidence are,”accountability, collaboration and initiative.”   (Confidence, pg 181)   It may be that these are ineffective outside of a team setting but my guess is that they may be valid for those navigating transition.
  • When confidence erodes Moss Kanter states that the cornerstone characteristics are replaced with “blame and anger.”  (Confidence, pg 140)   She goes on to characterize this doom loop, her words pg 127, with passivity and learned helplessness.   Teams in losing streaks have “diminished initiative, innovation disappears and problems remain unresolved.”  (Confidence, pg 256)  Any of that valid for times when your confidence was waning?

The book is interesting even to a non-sports fan.  One gripe I have is that Moss Kanter is light on the data to back-up her theories.  At one point I chuckled out loud when she characterized a point as ‘well-documented’ but never bothered to reference her source.

If nothing else the book brought a signficant transition issue to the forefront for me.  Confidence.  Mine wavers frequently.   It plummeted after I left my job.  I went from a C-suite executive to being alone on a Tuesday morning at 10:00 am.  If I use Moss Kanter’s analysis I would say that my confidence diminished radically because of an absence of expectations.   At that moment  I couldn’t conjure that purpose I’d sought in the change and I can attest to the loopiness of the doom state.   Roll the clock forward 24 months and my confidence has been re-borne along with some heady expectations.  I wonder if Moss Kanter really nailed the connection between expectations and confidence.   Have you ever experienced a cycle like this?

Moss Kanter sounded very Malcolm Gladwell-esque when she suggested that confidence is gained from hard work.  You may be familiar with Gladwell and his Outliers: The Story of Success.  In it he espoused that anyone willing to invest 10,000 hours into a pursuit could reach the highest level of recognition for that category.  Want to be an Olympic skater?  Simply invest 10,000 hours.  He offered reams of data that made any reader a convert.

Confidence.  Like ambition it isn’t a topic that I would effortlessly include in my thinking on transition.   Now that I’ve stumbled on it…I’m surprised at myself for having left it out.  The McCullough’s speech is only 12 minutes long..it gets really good at 9 minutes in.  It’s inspirational and edgy.   It will give you an emotional jolt…but it won’t do a lick for your confidence.  That I’m afraid will be the outcome of a lot of work and some expectations.

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5 responses to “Summer Book Review #16: Confidence

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