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May - 2011 - issue > In My Opinion

The Calm, Confident Organization

Raj Kanaya
Friday, April 29, 2011
Raj Kanaya
For golf fans, April is a big month, a time for the biggest of the major tournaments – the Masters. For me, and I suspect for most golf fans, watching the Masters is not about the expert shot making, but rather about the underlying human drama. The pin drop silence, the incredible tradition, the career altering significance – some thrive under the pressure and limelight, whereas others wither away, in often excruciatingly bad performances. Ultimately, it’s not the shots themselves but the stories that we remember – the triumph of Jack Nicklaus in 86, the meltdown of Greg Norman a decade later – because they separate, often in a brutal and cruel fashion, those with the mental fortitude and determination to win versus those without.

Of course, this delineation is not exclusive to golf; it’s true in all sports. In the really big games, a select few (think Michael Jordan in 90’s or Joe Montana in the 80’s) come through like no other, finding that extra gear and performing even better than they would in other games. They are the rarest of rare talents, combining both physical and mental excellence, and we celebrate them.
What separates them from the rest? At the top levels, everybody practices hard and is physically gifted. I doubt that there is as much differentiation along those dimensions as one might think. Instead, the difference is in the head – that inner reservoir of strength that the winners can draw upon when they really need it. I call it the ‘calm confidence’ of champions. At times of high stress, they maintain a zen-like calmness, focused and intense, but also comfortable and relaxed. They’re fully absorbed, “in the moment,” and I believe honestly enjoying themselves.

Those who falter lack the inner calmness and confidence, and instead are filled with nervous energy, doubt, and probably a healthy dose of fear. They try to avoid losing rather than going for the win. When the pressure builds, they can’t draw on a reservoir of strength, but rather begin to doubt themselves, lose focus, and let their emotions get out of control. They look fidgety and uncomfortable in their own skin. Anger and frustration boil over, and often they can’t execute even something basic. It’s painful to watch, and it’s all there for the world to see.

How does this translate to the world of business? Quite simply, building high performance teams is generally the same whether in sports or business – recruiting top talent, building trust and teamwork, and competing. The successful business shares many of the same qualities as the championship sports team. As managers and leaders, I believe that we all strive to build the “calm, confident” organization. We want our organizations to thrive, and to perform even better when the chips are down. And moreover, to have fun while doing it.

More than anything, confident teams exude an air of inevitability. They don’t sugar coat the situation, and in fact, accept negative information readily, but at the same time, they never doubt that success is assured in the long term. That level of confidence is contagious, and readily apparent to other key stakeholders – customers, new employees, investors. It becomes self-fulfilling.

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