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Momentum Is a Leader’s Best Friend
(1 Kings 2:1–4:24)
IT TAKES a leader to create momentum. Followers catch it. And managers are able to continue it once it has begun. But creating it requires someone who can motivate others, not one who needs to be motivated. Harry Truman once said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” For leaders, that statement should be changed to read, “If you can’t make some heat, get out of the kitchen.”
All leaders face the challenge of creating change in an organization. Just as every sailor knows you can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving forward, strong leaders understand that to change direction, you first have to create forward progress. Without momentum, even the simplest tasks can seem insurmountable. But with momentum on your side, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small, and trouble seems temporary. With enough momentum, nearly any kind of change is possible.
The time of transition from one leader to another presents the most critical challenge to continuing momentum. How did Solomon so successfully take the reins from his father? Consider the following actions the young king took to ensure a smooth transition:
- He started with what David provided. Solomon’s father gave him everything he needed to start his reign: a stable kingdom, plentiful resources, wise counsel, and his public endorsement. David made it clear to everyone in Israel that he had chosen Solomon as king.
- He humbly asked for leadership wisdom above all else. Solomon probably became king at about 18 years of age, yet despite his youth, he recognized the difficulties of leadership. He knew he needed wisdom above all else, so he asked for an understanding heart to judge God’s people. That request kept his motives pure and made it possible for him to avoid momentum-breakers.
- He made wise decisions that won him credibility. Solomon made several deft decisions concerning enemies to his throne. He exiled one opponent, executed two others, and put a fourth under house arrest. But even more important, he cemented his credibility with the people. The wisdom he displayed in a domestic dispute profoundly impacted the people: “All Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king” (1 Kin. 3:28).
- He maintained the peace. Solomon’s bold moves against enemies within Israel maintained peace at home, thus preventing a bloody civil war. But Solomon wisely took additional measures to keep other nations from threatening his country’s progress—and therefore “he had peace on every side all around him” (1 Kin. 4:24).
- He surrounded himself with wise associates. Only Solomon among the kings of Israel can challenge David as the architect of a great inner circle. Solomon kept on a few of David’s trusted servants in his own administration, but not many. Most of them he nurtured himself.
What It Takes to Sustain Momentum
How does a winning team keep winning? What makes it possible for an organization to keep the momentum going?
The answer is not what, but who. It takes a leader to sustain momentum, a leader who possesses…
- A willingness to accept responsibility for the organization’s momentum. Most leaders happily accept responsibility so long as an organization succeeds, but hedge when the organization starts to slip. Yet momentum—positive, negative, or nonexistent—is always the leader’s responsibility. Olan Hendrix, C.E.O. of the Leadership Resource Group, maintains that after you’ve led an organization for three years, every problem is your problem.
- A willingness to direct momentum instead of letting it direct him. Momentum always has a direction. Most people in an organization have little impact on its momentum; it simply carries them. But leaders cannot afford to surf momentum; they must steer it. Before Solomon became king, an outstanding military leader, David, created the nation’s momentum. Yet Solomon never led an army; his goals weren’t military in nature. He gave most of his attention to trade and construction—and that meant he had to change the direction of the nation’s momentum.
- A willingness to be enthusiastic at all times. Remain positive! Some personality types find it easy to remain enthusiastic; others don’t. Reflect on the following secrets to keeping leadership positive all the time:
- The work I’m doing is most important. Make sure your vision, your mission, and your actions all line up. It’s easy to stay excited when what you’re doing really matters.
- The people I work with are the best. Place a high value on everyone you work with. Expect the best of them, and they’ll give their best.
- The results will be positive. For the most part, you get what you expect. Only occasionally will you be surprised—but even then, you’ll just as often be surprised by better results as by worse ones.
Have you ever met a leader with a chronically negative attitude who was able to continually sustain positive momentum? Probably not.
No leader can ignore the impact of momentum. If you’ve got it, you and your people will be able to accomplish things you never thought possible. If you don’t, the smallest tasks will seem difficult. As the leader, you must make the choice to have it.
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