I’ll never forget my dad helping me to learn to ride a bike. He would help me balance myself, but eventually, I would go around and around and flop over. That’s when he used a phrase that I have often heard in my life. He said, “Timmy, your problem is that you are not building up a head of steam. Get a head of steam and your balance will get better.” It sounded like wise advice, but I didn’t have a clue as to what that meant. He explained, “A head of steam is what it takes to get those old steam trains rollin’.” Later I realized that what my dad was talking about was momentum.
Momentum is what gets things moving, and sustained momentum is a powerful force. Whether it’s a snowball rolling down a snow-covered mountain or a train moving down a track, momentum is a self-perpetuating, potent influence. Athletes and sports fans know this and so do effective organizations. Without a “head of steam,” churches and organizations often languish and become stagnant. But with momentum, churches and organizations overcome problems more easily, and have a greater sense of excitement, confidence and hope. Momentum is the accelerator of any organization.
How can leaders help build a head of steam?
First of all, momentum requires action. Many leaders get stuck in the muck and mire of excuses and inaction. Sometimes, it is the result of analysis paralysis or the fear of failure. But many wait for something to happen to them rather than making something happen. Sometimes, it may be a poor understanding of purpose or a lack of meaningful goals to pursue; however, taking action is absolutely essential in creating momentum. So, a good question to ask is “what is a next step I/we can take to move towards fulfilling our purpose?” Then, do it! You cannot have momentum with inaction.
Second, shoot for short-term wins and celebrate them. Nothing builds momentum like success. Often when we are working with churches and organizations that are lacking momentum, we encourage them to take on short-term projects. Believe it or not, one church I pastored gained massive amounts of momentum by the church family putting together a parade float for a local event in town! There’s way more to the story, but by working together and then participating in a community event, it added some steam to the engine. Oftentimes, we would build on one baptismal service or special event. It could be a simple building improvement or refurbishing project or a special program. In sports, it often only takes only one score or one defensive stop to turn momentum around. In business, it may be one small sell or one new product. Whatever it may be, don’t underestimate the power of small wins to get the momentum ball rolling. Even tiny actions will eventually begin to build momentum and produce results, as long as we are consistent. Making it your primary mission to move forward consistently will make it much easier to overcome obstacles because with each step your confidence will grow.
Next, adjust your outlook. Often, leaders get distracted by results and underestimate the power of the process. The result is discouragement. Instead, focus only on keeping the ball rolling. Keep planning and don’t abandon goals. If you quit, you’re guaranteed not to see results.
Dale Carnegie made this point nicely when he said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
Fourth, look for new opportunities. New opportunities will not necessarily sustain or guarantee momentum, but something new is often the catalyst for momentum. Ask anyone or any organization that has been languishing and most will say that momentum was initiated because of something new. After all, the leadership axiom is true, “If I always do what I’ve always done I will always get what I’ve always gotten.” Therefore, momentum is most often sparked by something new. It could be new leadership, a fresh direction, or a different program or product.
Finally, sustained momentum is the result of continual growth and improvement. This requires honest evaluation and the willingness to embrace change. Some of the best churches and organizations I know relentlessly look for ways to improve and address areas of stagnation.
But where do we start building momentum? The answer is within the person you see in the mirror. The foundation of momentum is taking personal responsibility. Momentum actually begins within the heart of the individual leader. Leaders must take 100% responsibility for their areas of responsibility and be excited about it. It is then that leaders and organizations begin to build a head of steam.