James is a young entrepreneur. He was recruited by seasoned entrepreneurs to help bootstrap a new venture. Together, he and other similarly recruited co-founders have been working under the tutelage of these entrepreneurs and making progress in learning the market and getting product into the hands of consumers.
Over these months, James has demonstrated that he has many of the ingredients needed to be a successful entrepreneur. He has a strong grasp of his craft. He’s smart and has good judgment. He’s proven himself to be humble, willing to listen, and eager to learn.
But the entrepreneurs questioned his drive. Having provided sufficient seed capital and startup experience, they were ready to see James step into his role and provide real entrepreneurial ownership over the new venture. Going “all in” is essential for any startup. Very few startups really get off the ground with “part-time” help. Successful ventures are built from the combination of hard work and someone’s passion for eating, breathing, sleeping, and showering “their new baby.” Would James be able to take that step?
They asked me to have a conversation with James. They wanted to see whether I could help motivate him to go “all in,” explain that it’s required for success, and make it clear that he was empowered to be that visionary entrepreneur. They were hoping that he’d take advantage of his opportunity to be a co-founder and demonstrate the committed passion a company at this phase needs to go from concept to reality.
I had a great conversation with James. He was obviously passionate about the concept, and he stated his willingness to go “all in.” We even talked about his hourly commitment and how to remove distractions from his plate. Now that he understood that he was empowered, he was willing to walk away from other ventures in order to commit his time and provide his entire mindshare. It felt like a good step forward. Even more, I was excited about the possibilities.
But he dropped the ball. And, in a way that is all too common, he failed to build momentum.
Momentum is built through a series of actions that build upon each other. It’s easier to “keep” something going and to accelerate its progress than it is to start from scratch. When movement begins, leaders push it. They keep it going and they accelerate it. This is momentum.
Unfortunately, many young professionals fail to take advantage of progress and push it forward. Here are two very simple ways to build momentum:
I ended my conversation with James by putting the ball squarely in his court. I told him that it was up to him to let me know what resources he would need to go “all in.” I even indicated that the founders would consider increasing his compensation in order to ensure he could dedicate his mindshare and didn’t need other “gigs” to feel financially stable. I told him that it was his responsibility to reset the operating model and ensure everyone is marching to the beat of the same drum. I explained that he was on point.
After 36 hours I saw no progress on that mandate. James’ lack of follow-through killed our conversational momentum. It made me question whether his words were simply words, or if he really was ready to go “all in.” To demonstrate that he was all in, I would have expected James to digest our conversation and follow up – at least to me, if not his co-founders – with his plan of action and the resources he’d need to be successful. Rock stars would have done this within 6 hours. A reasonable expectation for any professional is 24.
Follow-through is easy. It doesn’t take any special skill or a lot of time. It simply takes commitment. But it makes an impact and pushes momentum forward. Recapping a conversation and providing insight into your next set of actions provides others with the confidence that “you’ve got this.” It keeps them motivated and it puts the next milestone out there for measurement.
Follow-through’s close cousin is responsiveness. Responsiveness keeps momentum moving by allowing others to move forward. By responding to someone’s question, building upon their ideas, or even just acknowledging receipt, you clear a bottleneck that someone else might have in waiting for you.
For a leader, momentum is not just about keeping yourself going, it’s about helping increase the pace by which the team is executing. By being responsive, you help set the tone and increase the pace of action and decision-making.
Too often as leaders, we look at the strategies we create, the capital we deploy, or the hire that we bring on board as accelerators. These big decisions absolutely propel us forward. But, we often overlook the lowest hanging fruit — creating basic momentum through simple actions. Whether you’re a young professional or a seasoned leader, maybe it’s time to ask yourself whether your day-to-day actions are creating momentum or slowing things down.