All too often the challenge for leaders is not the initiation of a new program, but rather that once initiated, that the program isn’t killed by inertia, bureaucratic minutia and indifference. The challenge for leaders, after initiating new programs, is to keep their eye on the ball, and keep the ball rolling. They must sustain momentum. Indeed, they must manage for momentum. They cannot simply drop the ball (i.e., launch new program or policy) and hope it keeps rolling. They must make sure it keeps rolling.
Often momentum is regarded as a monolithic and mystical “big mo.” How many times have I sat in Yankee stadium, watching the home team lose games, but by August, the wind is at their back and they seem to have caught the “big mo”? From the stands, it seems that suddenly all the stars aligned and they’re back in the groove. But is it as mystical as all that? Is momentum all that monolithic? All that mystical? Or is the fact, that away from the limelight, in practice and in the locker room, Joe Torre is capable of leading and managing for momentum? Managerially competent leaders understand that in order to control the big mo, they need to manage the four dimensions of momentum so their initiative stays on track, stays on people’s radar, and remains something that the organization continues to support.
The first dimension of momentum is structural momentum. Leaders who emphasize structural momentum are likely to say that things are likely to keep moving when the primary concern is who does what and making sure people have resources to keep going. Embedded here is a logistical notion of momentum. If you want to sustain momentum—worry about resources and responsibility. The second dimension of momentum is performance momentum, where leaders place emphasis on achievement and evaluation. If you want to sustain things in an organization and keep things moving, you need to make sure that evaluations are conducted, progress is measured, and feedback is given. The third dimension of momentum is cultural momentum. Leaders who sustain momentum place an emphasis on the group culture, where the cohesiveness of the culture and social psychological mechanisms, like peer pressure, will sustain projects to completion. The fourth dimension of momentum is political momentum, where leaders make sure that conflict is dealt with and that opposition is either challenged or incorporated.
When you view momentum in this way, you can develop a sense that there is something you can do to sustain it. That it isn’t simply this high concept that football games are made of. How you manage for momentum will depend on how you allocate resources, how you make corrections, how you maintain commitment, and how you deal with criticism. Proactive leaders do not view momentum as an unquantified state over which they have no control. Proactive leaders see momentum as a multi-dimensional commodity that can and must be managed in order to ensure the success of their initiative.
It is one thing to launch a program or policy, and another to keep it going. Keeping your eye on the ball means sustaining structural, performance, cultural, and political momentum. Great leaders don’t just initiate. They make sure they ball keeps rolling.