The Law of the Big Mo

By Susan & Samantha Schilke

In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about the power of momentum.  Momentum is motion and growth. It is a leader’s best friend and is often the difference between winning or losing. With momentum, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small and trouble seems temporary. Get enough momentum and any kind of change is possible – inspiring higher performance from followers and a more positive perception of leaders.

Leaders can create momentum. Followers catch it. The two keys to driving momentum are motivation and preparation. In the beginning, creating momentum requires someone who can motivate others (not someone who needs motivation themselves). Once you get momentum started, it becomes much easier to steer. It’s like water skiing. Before you’re on top of the water, the boat is simply dragging you along with water flooding your chest and great stress on your arms. There’s a moment in which you think you can’t hold on anymore. But then the force of the water drives your skis to the surface and off you go, able to make elaborate turns with only a slight shift of your feet.

A little progress goes a long way – celebrate it and use the energy to drive your team and vision.  When momentum breakers and obstacles try to stall progress, use them instead as a rallying cry to connect your team and get them over the hump. Then see how far you can go.

Be careful when momentum is driven by factors outside of your control. This kind of momentum can lead to over-confidence. At TeamStrength, we have companies pushing their leaders to focus on long-term strategy as they realize that current results are tied to external factors that may not last.  Remember the perception boost momentum gives leaders can also create hubris, which is risky.

Use the power of momentum to dig out of a hole by giving your team targets they can hit.

It’s harder to build momentum from a standstill and much harder to do when things have been in decline. It requires a great deal of energy.  Start small and focus on creating forward progress and highlighting it constantly to create a new momentum.

You have to first stop the decline, then create new motion, and then pick up speed. Focus on setting targets you and your team can hit.  A big vision is good (a leader’s number one job to paint a positive vision of the future), but it can work against you when your team has been failing. They won’t be able to catch the vision until they start feeling progress. Seeing progress is the most powerful motivator. If the goals are too far away, team members won’t feel success in the progress, will continue to feel like they’re failing, and will struggle with engagement.

Set interim goals in every category you can – targets they can hit, and then celebrate, appreciate their progress, and move the bar to the next target they can hit. Focus on what you can do, celebrate the team’s victories, no matter how small, and make progress where you can whether it’s internal leadership development or team strength. If you want to do great things within your company, don’t overlook the Power of the Big Mo.

Momentum is the great exaggerator. When things are going well, momentum makes everything even better. It can make leaders look better than they are. It can help the team perform better than expected. Momentum is easier to steer than start. When momentum is on your side, keep improving and looking around corners for opportunities and threats. When momentum is against you, it takes extraordinary attitude, strategies, positivity and consistency to reverse it. And ultimately, momentum is the leader’s responsibility.