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A Matter of Confidence

| April 20, 2005

by Jim Bruce

Good morning!  

In my reading this week, I found this short piece by John Baldoni.  In it he talks about the foundational importance of importance and suggests that you can nurture it by “inviting them to look up,” by “letting them see you sweat,” by “learning from your mistakes,” and by “radiating hope.”


Weigh In: A Matter of Confidence

Leaders gotta have it… but it must go beyond swagger, according to columnist John Baldoni.

This crucial leadership trait involves more subtleties than swagger.


By John Baldoni


 Now they are being hailed as the first sports dynasty of the 21st 

century. That’s what happens when you win three Super Bowls in four 

years, the first of which came in January 2002, a few short months 

after September 11. It somehow seemed appropriate then that the 

winning team was named the Patriots and they hailed from New England. 

It may be a stretch to liken a professional football team to our 

nation’s revolutionaries but there is one parallel that is 

unmistakable. Both embody the aspirations of our era; both embody 

what we want to be. America’s first patriots were steely, scrappy and 

tenacious; they made do with what they had, not what they wished they 

had. Our football Patriots, under the direction of coach Bill 

Belichick, are equally resourceful, with defensive players joining 

the offense and offensive players playing defense. Injuries do not 

hold them back; they push them forward. The net result of this 

attitude is something that our Founding Fathers certainly had and 

winning teams always have. It’s called confidence.


You Gotta Have It

 Using that word as the title of her new book, Harvard professor 

Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes, “Confidence is the bridge connecting 

expectations and performance, investments and results.” Winning 

organizations have it in spades; losing teams cannot seem to spell 

it. Yet, as Kanter points out, confidence is necessary for success. 

Why? Because confidence is that inner fire that says we can do it if 

we try. It also is that inner voice that knows when to ask for help. 

For example, Michael Jordan did not win a championship without a 

smart coach and a savvy supporting team. Fred Smith did not build the 

world’s most successful air freight system without a superior team of 

logisticians and dedicated pilots. Confidence is knowledge of one’s 

own strengths as well as one’s own limitations. In other words you 

need to know when to say when you can go it alone or call in for 

reinforcements. As such it is a valuable leadership trait. Here are 

some ways to nurture it.


Invite them to look up. Leadership by nature is aspirational. It must 

inspire people to want to achieve. Leaders play their part by setting 

goals and inviting others to add to those goals. For example, a sales 

manager may set a goal of achieving one million dollars in new sales 

per month. A turned-on sales team will take that as a challenge and 

strive to bring in another $100,000 in new monthly business. When 

they do they feel good about themselves and want to keep on 

achieving. In sales we call it the “swagger.” A sales team without 

swagger is like a ship without a rudder, drifting on a sea of apathy.


Let them see you sweat. Yes, this is the reverse of the Broadway 

adage. But we’re not talking acting; we’re taking real life. 

Confidence comes from working the details, being willing to be part 

of the team and sharing the burdens with them. It is honed by 

discipline and attentiveness. This is not micromanagement; it’s 

sharing of burdens. And when things turn around, and goals are met, 

it’s a sharing of glory earned by the sweat of the collective brow.


Learn from your mistakes. John Madden, America’s leading football 

analyst, has said, “Coaches have to watch for what they don’t want to 

see and listen for what they don’t want to hear.” What Madden means 

is that it is human nature to avoid confronting mistakes, especially 

if the mistakes are being committed by people for whom you are 

responsible. This is folly. Mistakes are learning opportunities. 

Capitalize on them as learning lessons. When you correct them 

properly, you will likely not repeat them. And that has to inspire a 

degree of confidence.


Radiate hope. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for the cause 

of African nationalism in South Africa. Throughout those long years 

of deprivation without family he did not lose hope in the 

righteousness of his cause. In her book, Kanter cites Mandela as a 

model of confidence. Mandela embodied the hope of his nation, first 

to his followers inside prison and then outside of it. He showed just 

how hopeful he was when he became president of the new South Africa; 

he did not seek retribution but rather reconciliation, which in the 

long run was the only way to avoid bloodshed and to integrate 

economic, political and global resources. By doing so, he provided 

hope for all people of South Africa.


A Key Difference Maker

 Of course you can be too confident. For example, after the 

devastation of the Great War, the French built the Maginot Line, a 

fortified wall of concrete and armaments designed to keep the Germans 

from ever attacking again. The French government put its faith in the 

wall; the Nazis ignored it, entering France through the Low 

Countries. The Nazis too had their own margin of defense, the 

Siegfried Line, which of course the Allies blew through via air, 

artillery and tank power. Overconfidence prevents companies from 

seeing the dangers lurking over the corporate parking lot; these may 

include anything from a changing market to a new competitor or a 

breakthrough product.


 Nonetheless, confidence is essential to leadership. A leader without 

confidence can neither guide nor inspire; she can only sit in the 

shadows while others carry the load. Confidence is a unifier that 

brings people together because it feeds upon their collective 

energies. Confident organizations are those that do succeed because 

they draw upon the strengths of their leaders and followers pulling 

together for common cause. A genuinely confident leader is one who 

knows herself, her people, and her abilities to move an organization 

forward to achieve their goals. And that’s something about which both 

our Founding Fathers and the New England Patriots would agree.