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Building a winning boardroom team

Terry Francona
Terry Francona steered the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series win in 86 years last season.
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(CNN) -- Whatever the sport, winning teams always share many of the same qualities. They're confident, intimidating and motivated, with high employee morale and a loyal fan base.

Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter says those characteristics also add up to success in the business world.

And while sports metaphors may be as over-used in the office as Post-It notes, Moss Kanter -- the author "Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks begin and end" -- says that is for very good reasons.

"I've been looking at companies that are one a positive path vs. a negative path and I've come to use the language of sports, winning streaks and losing streaks," Moss Kanter told CNN.

"In companies that are on a winning streak, you see leadership springing up everywhere, people tackling projects, people suggesting innovations.

"But at the point at which the culture has become one that depresses people, in which there is no confidence, in which people have even lost confidence in themselves, the only way that people come out of it is because leaders help deliver more confidence."

As every coach knows, it's easy to hop onto a winner. The real challenge is to turnaround a loser, as Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona did last season by taking baseball's most famous losers to their first World Series success since 1918.

"One of the symptoms of a losing streak is a turnover of top executives. It's a revolving door," said Moss Kanter, who picks out Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune as an example of a "winning" executive.

"Bethune is a superb confidence builder and turnaround leader. He took a company that'd had 10 CEOs in 10 years and two bankruptcies and now he's been one CEO for 10 years and that company's been on a winning path.

"But more than that, they have a team of people that is causing them to flourish even as the airline industry is in deep trouble. "

Francona may have achieved success in his first season in charge across the Charles River from Harvard, but Moss Kanter says lasting success in business can take a little longer to achieve, as Jack Welch proved when he turned around General Electric's fortunes in the 1980s.

"Jack Welch got lionized as a hero, but we forget that for the first five years he was called 'Neutron Jack' because he was cutting, cutting, cutting," she said.

But while there are coaches who make the decisions and stars who make the big plays, Moss Kanter says every team needs a supporting staff.

"I've found that small wins, small projects, small differences often make huge differences," said Moss Kanter.

"If you mobilize enough people looking for the small differences they can make, that often adds up to a big success for the company.

"Losing teams in professional sports, as well as losing companies often have a lot of stars. They often have a lot of talent. And yet the whole team doesn't win. The question is not the talent of the people, it's putting that talent together in a combination that will create a success on a goal that everybody shares."

It all comes back to the boss. And Moss Kanter says there is no team if there's no leader: "Leaders deliver confidence, that's what they do. They make decisions, they set strategy, they do all the technical stuff, but they also have to make people feel confident that their efforts will pay off."

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