9 Losing Behaviors that Predict Failure

Since failure is inevitable in careers and business, I think about how to learn from mistakes and recover quickly. Especially in these uncertain times, resilience becomes even more crucial. Not just personal resilience, but also company resilience: those that can bounce back quickly from a loss, can go on to become winners.

Those executives and companies that react poorly to glitches and start acting like losers only perpetuate losing streaks.

I’m reading Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streak Begin and End,  by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard professor and author of bestsellers on strategy, innovation, and leadership.

In her view, success and failure are not events, they are trajectories and self-fulfilling tendencies. Professor Kanter will convince you that the goal of winning is not losing two times in a row.

“Confidence is the sweet spot between arrogance and despair — consisting of positive expectations for favorable outcomes.”

Drawing on more than 300 interviews with leaders in business, sports and politics, Kanter explains the role confidence plays in the performance of institutions and individuals.

Losing streaks are often created and perpetuated when people lose confidence in their leaders and systems, while winning streaks are fueled by confident people who are secure in their own abilities and the ability of their leaders.

Winning streaks are characterized by continuity and continued investment, Kanter argues, while losing streaks are marked by disruption and a lack of investment that typically give way to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

She proposed Kanter’s Law: “Anything can look like failure in the middle.” So how do you spot behaviors that are signs of loser attitudes?

When losses mount, pressure goes up. Stress makes it easier to panic. Panic makes it easier to lose. Losing increases neglect, letting buildings get run down, discipline deteriorate, good manners disappear. Signs of failure cause people to dislike and avoid one another, hide information, and disclaim responsibility – all key elements of denial. All this makes confidence crumble. People doubt themselves, and others, do not trust the system. The expectations turn negative.

Losing streaks begin in response to a sense of failure and failure makes people feel out of control. It’s one more step to a pervasive sense of powerlessness and powerlessness corrodes confidence. People fall back on their most primitive, self-protective behavior.

Nine pathologies begin to unfold in an emotional and behavioral chain reaction:

  1. Communication decreases
  2. Criticism and blame increase
  3. Respect decreases
  4. Isolation increases
  5. Focus turns inward
  6. Rifts widen and inequities grow
  7. Initiative decreases
  8. Aspirations diminish
  9. Negativity spreads

These behavior characteristics are polar opposites of those that help winners win. Kanter goes into depth on each of these negative signs of poor performance in the book, which I highly recommend.

She applies the concepts of psychology (dissonance, explanatory models, learned optimism) to explore the winning and losing streaks of a diverse lineup including the BBC, Gillette, Verizon, Continental Airlines, the Chicago Cubs, and Target.

The sports stories (Philadelphia Eagles, women’s basketball and soccer) are particularly interesting with lessons that are applicable to team work and show how small gestures can build and restore confidence.

There are some amazing stories of business turnarounds as well. Three cornerstones of confidence are clearly detailed:

  1. Accountability: the actions that involve facing facts without humiliation
  2. Collaboration: the rituals of respect that create teamwork
  3. Initiative/Innovation: the “kaleidoscope thinking” that unlocks energy and creativity

I thought I’d share these nuggets from the book, which I haven’t finished yet, but can’t put down. I’m just getting into the “good stuff” on turnarounds and what leaders do to take a dismal losing streak, plug holes, and create wins.

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