The Calm, Confident Organization

Raj Kanaya
Raj Kanaya
Founder & CEO, 

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.

Building such a team starts with recruiting. You set the tone and stage by the initial hires, finding the right mix, and just as importantly, avoiding the really toxic choices. Often, the bad choices come in the guise of talented and experienced professionals, with resumes packed with impressive bullet points. But it’s important to dig deeper. Has the individual been part of winning teams? Was there pride in the output? Have they been part of teams that have faced adversity and overcome it? If the answer is no to these questions, especially for an experienced professional, it’s a warning sign to move on. You could be running into a history of underachievement and learned pessimism. For some people, a “black cloud” follows them because I honestly believe that they want it that way – being part of something successful can be scary to some people because they are then accountable for delivering on their commitments.

In contrast, when recruiting those with a habit of winning, they speak with glowing pride of what they’ve accomplished, the collective excellence of the people they worked with, and the joy of the journey. They’re open, honest and optimistic. Even if the project they worked on “failed” in the market, it doesn’t shake their confidence. As the great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “We never lost a game, sometimes we just ran out of time.”

Getting the right people on board is a critical first step. Confidence is contagious and has a positive effect on everyone in the workplace. One of the first benefits that you’ll see is more intensity and less emotion. I never really understood the difference between the two until reading a book on leadership by the great basketball coach John Wooden. Emotion is fleeting, it burns out, and it’s often out of control. Intensity, on the other hand, is marked by strong and unwavering focus and balance. Whereas the “emotional” organization will vacillate between extremes, sucking energy from productive uses, the “intense” organization weathers problems as small speed bumps, never losing sight of the bigger goals.

As managers, it’s important for us to reinforce the behaviors that we value within the organization. At Infineta, we instituted a quarterly MVP award, in which everybody on the team votes for the person who best exemplified the values that we hope to achieve: technical excellence, work ethic, teamwork. There is a small cash reward but the more important part is being recognized by your peers. For everyone else, it’s a reminder of the qualities that we value as an organization.

Ultimately, the only sustainable competitive advantage is in our people and culture. Building the “calm confident” organization isn’t easy, and it’s much easier to reflect and write about rather than to actually do. But half the battle is knowing where you want to go, and then taking steps, however small, to get you moving in the right direction.

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