16: The Law of Momentum

Momentum is likened to the wind that drives a wooden ship: a single gust of strong wind does little good, but a slow and steady breeze will move a great deal of weight across vast distances.

The author provides the example of a principal who turned around an inner-city high school: the details are tedious and the example draws on for several pages - but in this instance, that's exactly the point. The school wasn't changed quickly by a single dramatic action, but by many small efforts over a period of several years.

The example of a principal taking action in a school of hard-case students from a culture of failure also demonstrates that a leader must create momentum - he cannot count on his followers to be enthusiastic, or to sustain their own enthusiasm. He must at times provide leadership to demoralized, dejected, and thoroughly soured followers and kindle motivation.

(EN: I rather like this point, and it stands in stark contrast to the author's own account of his "leadership" of a church that began by getting rid of two-thirds of the people because they were lackluster performers with negative attitudes. If you have to count on people to furnish their own enthusiasm, you're not a leader at all, just a coordinator. A real leader reaches out to the demotivated individuals, improves their performance and attitude, and can turn around the weakest and most sour of followers.)

The Value of Momentum

Back to sports: it's statistically very rare in reality (though hackneyed in fiction) for a team to rally in the second half of the game, when they're far behind on the scoreboard, and effect a win. Most often, a team that racks up points early continues to stay on top through the rest of the game. This is the nature of momentum.

The same phenomenon can be seen in other situations: the politician who wins an election had a wide lead to begin with; the company who ends the year as the industry leader in sales had strong figures for the first quarter.

The momentum generated by early performance carries the winners through to victory; and the momentum generated by poor performance carries the losers through to defeat. Morale and performance of the people are set in motion by the predicted outcome based on early performance.

For a leader, momentum is critical to motivation and morale: when your have achieved some level of success, the ultimate success seems more feasible, and any setbacks appear as small and temporary.

Once a leader can build momentum, it's fairly easy to steer - but getting momentum started in the first place is a difficult task. The author likens it to water skiing: once you're standing on the skis, it is fun, easy, and almost effortless - but getting to the point where you are standing is very difficult, and being dragged awkwardly behind the boat is harrowing until you can get on your feet.

Momentum Carries Over

The author speaks to his own experience as a megachurch pastor, in his attempt to lead a relocation effort. This is always a major ordeal for a large organization, and churches can often lose much of their congregation when they move from one location to another, not so much for the inconvenience of driving to a different place to attend service, but because the process of relocation chuffs and alienates many people.

The effort took a very long period of time, and began with getting his "inner circle" to accept the change, and motivate others to accept it as well. Then, there were great difficulties dealing with regulators (this was in California) over everything from building permits, the impact to local politics, environmental concerns, and the like. Even though the land had been selected and donated to the church, it took eleven years to complete the move.

Most significantly: the actual move did not take place until well after he had left the church: the task was handed off to another pastor who replaced him, but he feels that the momentum he created within the organization, which includes not only the relocation task but bolstering the morale and developing other leaders, is what ultimately carried them through to the goal, even after he had left.