Five Ways Leaders Can Instantly Shift Momentum

This is a guest post by Tor Constantino. He is a former journalist, has an MBA, and works in public relations where he has directly reported to several CEOs in his career. He lives near Washington, D.C. with his wife and two daughters. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Every successful leader wants to be a “game-changer.” If you’ve ever watched a televised sports event, you’ve no doubt heard commentators banter back-and-forth about key points in the game where “momentum shifted” in favor of the winner.

Downshifting in a Car - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #4801950

Photo courtesy of ©

Regardless of what caused an unplanned momentum shift, it’s safe to say it usually occurs among the competitors themselves who are directly engaged on the “field of play.”

However, a team’s coach has the ability to sway a game with planned “momentum shifters.”

Even though a coach—as the team’s de facto leader—might not be the one physically running, catching or participating, a coach has several options at his/her disposal to intentionally redirect momentum.

Here are five strategies a coach can use to instantly shift momentum, which are applicable to other leaders as well:

  1. Call a time-out. Experienced coaches use this tactic in virtually every type of competition to give their own players a break, assess the game situation, disrupt the positive inertia of the opposing team, and select the best option for the next moment to position their team to win.

    This effective tool is sometimes used during business negotiations as a “cooling off” period but it is largely overlooked and underutilized outside of sports analogies, despite its usefulness.

  2. Substitute a player. Switching players in and out of a game is an obvious way to help them recharge mentally and physically so that they can ultimately reenter the fray to help their team to victory. However, in some instances, a specific situation may require a skill set that doesn’t necessarily belong to a player that’s currently in the game.

    If it’s the field of play or the field sales force, it’s the responsibility of the coach/leader to recognize and assess that larger context and make the appropriate personnel adjustments as needed.

  3. 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 team if the individual somehow appears larger than the group or above its shared values and rules.

    A savvy coach who’s engaged with his team can avoid major fissures from forming. That 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.

  4. 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 call. 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, an unexpected acquisition bid by Sirius Satellite Radio for XM Satellite Radio, or Alexander the Great slicing through the Gordian Knot—sometimes the quickest way to victory is by setting aside conventional wisdom in favor of a novel, game-changing solution.

  5. 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 perform.

    Since character does matter in all areas of life, and leaders are supposed to set an example, this particular tactic can only be used very rarely since repeated use can quickly break down discipline among subordinates and players. In a business setting this might look like a boss who lets the team take a half-day Friday or who escalates and fights for more funding of a critical team project, such leaders tend to lift the needs of the team above their own. That’s a leader that people follow.

While each of these concepts most readily applies within the context of athletics, they can find easy parallels and comparisons within other groups. Whether it’s a church, corporation, school board, union or non-profit organization each of those groups will at some point need an instant shift in momentum that only their respective leaders can execute.

That’s because successful execution begins with capable leadership, especially when the game is on the line.

What additional things can a coach/leader do to instantly shift momentum if necessary? You can leave a comment by clicking here.