Adaptive Confidence

The new Mission Impossible movie is an action-packed thriller much like the prequels. It is also a perfect illustration of leadership and positive culture—and that positive culture produces two assets not available to conventional groups.
The protagonist is high on task and people and willing to sacrifice for both. His people know this about him and about each other. The result is a team with unusually high levels of focus, trust, and collaboration.
The presence of these characteristics often brings out two other characteristics: positive peer pressure and adaptive confidence. In a team with positive peer pressure, everyone expects everyone else to give their best, so they do and this eventually gives rise to adaptive confidence.
Adaptive confidence tends to emerge in a team with positive peer pressure. It is the belief that a solution can be manufactured in the process of pursuing a challenging task. In the movie, team members are often under stress and they make statements like these: “We can figure it out”; “I know you can figure it out”; or “I will figure out something.” They have adaptive confidence at the collective and the individual level and they thus perform well under pressure and accomplish things other groups would not be able to accomplish.
While the movie is fictional, I know a CEO and a four star general who both understand adaptive confidence and inspirational leadership. The CEO says the way to determine if an executive is a leader is to see how the team performs under stress. If they collaborate, adapt, and accomplish their goal no matter what, then the CEO knows that the executive is a leader who inspires.
The general makes the same observation, indicating that whether or not a man with two bullets in him focuses, adapts and, accomplishes a mission is a function of inspirational leadership prior to the event. Toxic leaders or micro-managers can get results when they have total control of known processes, but when the people can only succeed by adapting under pressure, such authority figures fail.
If you watch the movie, try a challenge. Ignore the interesting plot and focus only on the leader, the team, and the notions of positive peer pressure and adaptive confidence. It may have high payoffs.

  • What does peer pressure look like in a conventional organization?
  • What is positive peer pressure and how is it created?
  • What is the level of adaptive confidence in your people?
  • How could we use this passage to create a positive organization?


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