This past summer, Ken Jennings, an unassuming software engineer from Salt Lake City, racked up 38 consecutive Jeopardy wins, bagging more than $1.3 million in prize money. Night after night, he correctly answered brain teasers like naming the two U.S. Presidents whose middle names are also the last names of two other Presidents. (Reagan and Clinton.) Jennings also flubbed plenty of questions, but he never lost his cool. That turns out to be a classic characteristic of a winner, according to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and author of Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin and End, which hit bookstores in August. After interviewing more than 300 people in myriad fields, Kanter discovered that most winners follow the same central commandments. They are:
1. Thou shalt not panic. Yes, this is easier said than done. When problems arise, try to focus on facts and key metrics that will help you correct the situation. Hold frequent staff meetings to keep turnaround ideas flowing. Rehearsing what you intend to say at these key meetings will help you build confidence.
2. Thou shalt not be rigid. Too many rules can spoil a winning streak. As businesses become established, managers often feel the need to foster a "professional" environment. But coerced professionalism can undermine the very spirit of that winning workplace, says Kanter. Many companies become successful precisely because the atmosphere is relaxed.
3. Thou shalt not deny change. Don't let something like, say, an unexpected dip in sales send you and your staff into a downward spiral. And don't even think about playing the blame game when such bad news hits. "Have the strength to look at the problem and take responsibility," Kanter advises. Then quickly set new goals for the staff, to focus everyone on something other than the negative.
4. Thou shalt celebrate success -- briefly. Toasting victory is just as important as accepting defeat. Now, shall we get back to work?