You've probably heard sports commentators chat about strategic points in the game where momentum shifted to favor the winner. Momentum is important becase whoever controls momentum largely controls the successful outcome of nearly any endeavor.
Even though a coach -- as the team’s default leader -- might not be the one physically running, catching or participating on the field, the coach can use several options to intentionally redirect momentum. These tactics are applicable to other leaders as well.
1. Take one for the team.
This tactic is most apparent when a basketball coach gets a technical foul, an NFL coach gets fined or a baseball manager gets ejected for arguing with a game official. When a leader or coach takes a penalty on principle for the entire group, it can be a rallying point for the team to execute.
In a business setting, this might look like a boss who bucks corporate policy to let the team take half-day Fridays throughout the summer or who fights for more funding of a critical group project. These leaders tend to lift the needs of the team above their own, and they are leaders that people follow.
However, since character is important and leaders must set a good example, this particular tactic should be used rarely, since its repetition can break down discipline across the team.
2. Bench a player.
Whether it’s in a locker room or a board room, type-A charged egos tend to abound. In some instances, the individual success of a dynamic player or stellar employee may hurt the broader team if that individual engages is excessive self promotion or elevates themselves above the group's shared values and rules.
A savvy leader needs to be aware of this constant threat, consistently applying rewards and discipline as needed and not being afraid to sideline a key producer.
It’s a good reminder for the group that no individual can win on their own.
3. Substitute a player.
Sometimes, a coach might only need to switch players in and out of a game to help them recharge mentally and physically so they can ultimately re-engage to help their team toward victory. In other instances, a specific situation may require a skill set that doesn't necessarily belong to a player that’s currently in the game.
Whether it’s the field of play or the field sales force, a leader needs to recognize and assess that larger context and make the appropriate personnel adjustments as needed.
4. Call a timeout.
Experienced coaches use this tactic to give their own players a break, assess the game situation, disrupt the positive inertia of the opposing team and select the best option to position their team to win.
This tool is sometimes used during business negotiations as a cooling off period, but despite its usefulness, it is largely overlooked and underutilized outside of sports.
5. Try the unexpected.
This is usually the most difficult thing for a leader or coach to do because of the inherent risk associated with this type of action. It’s much easier to maintain the status quo; however, surprise can carry the day.
Whether it’s New Orleans Saints’ coach Sean Peyton starting the second half of the 2010 Super Bowl with an onside kick, Sirius Satellite Radio unexpectedly acquiring XM Satellite Radio or Alexander the Great slicing through the Gordian Knot -- the quickest momentum shift requires setting aside conventional wisdom in favor of a novel, game-changing solution.
Whether you work for a corporation, school board, union or non-profit organization, you are going to need to know how to shift momentum, and that momentum shift can only come from a productive leader. That’s because successful execution begins with capable leadership, especially when the game is on the line.