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The Big Mo!

In the early days of the SSC, I reached out to a mentor with deep experience in starting businesses, operating businesses, and turning businesses around. I asked what advice he had for me and he told me one, simple, thing. Four years later, the wisdom he shared cannot be overstated. He said, “I wouldn't sweat the details too much. I would focus on building momentum.”

Leaders call it the Big Mo! When it’s good it’s good. When it’s bad it’s bad. We all want that forward momentum, but what is it? How do we get it? There are many articles, and even books, written on the subject. One study even goes so far as to suggest that momentum-powered firms deliver 80% more shareholder value than their slower rivals.

To visualize momentum, consider this. A typical supertanker travels at less than 20 knots in open water, but its mass and momentum are so enormous that the crew will shut down its engines 15 miles from their destination to allow the ship to decelerate. Now that’s momentum! If you are driving a ship like that, you want to keep that momentum moving in the right direction.

The example above is of momentum in the physical world, but similar phenomena exist in sports, in business, and in our personal lives. When we start to move in a certain direction, and with a certain speed, we tend to continue in that direction and with that speed.

Momentum solves 80% of your problems.
- John C. Maxwell

So we can agree that momentum is a leader’s best friend, but how do we get it started and keep it going? Starting and keeping momentum takes work. Focus, vision, and a team orientation are momentum makers, while indecision, dishonesty, and underappreciation are momentum breakers. Urgency, significance, and early successes, also help to build momentum, while procrastination and delays tend to kill it. The leader’s energy and commitment play equally big roles. There is no single factor, or silver bullet. But when you have it, you know you have it.

Getting started is the most important part of building momentum.
- Vusi Thembekwayo, South African Business Leader and Speaker

At the end of last year, I saw my mentor and I recalled his earlier advice, followed by the question of what advice he had for me now. He said, “It hasn’t changed. You always have to focus on momentum.