…Momentum bolsters progress, for leaders and drummers

The prescription is simple, and it works just as well for developing leaders as it does for drummers: enhance or amp up your perception of progress. Progress is there, just harder to see. Read more for tips on how to see it, sustaining the momentum for your personal change effort.

I am an aspiring drummer. My dad drummed at a high level in pipe bands, so I got an early introduction, lead drumming in a marching band as a young teen. I’ve been pounding somewhat rhythmically on things ever since, much to the annoyance of many around me. But I never really got back to drumming in any meaningful way. In fact, I had not sat behind a full drum set with any kind of intent until last year when my wife generously agreed to the purchase of electronic drums. I sold them as a father/son bonding tool, which it has been. But I really wanted it – I wanted to drum again.

Turns out I have some latent skills, bolstered by a little long ignored talent. For the first while, I couldn’t drag myself away from that drum set. Progress came easy. Improvement was obvious. Even my wife noticed, and she readily admits to having no rhythm. But as you might expect, progress slowed, eventually coming slower than my naturally ambitious personality would like. And as the progress declined, so did the practice.

So I was intrigued to read this recently in a drummers’ blog: “It’s easier to quadruple your drumming skill than it is to increase it by 50%.” Seems like a crazy claim, but I believe the argument for it is sound, and that it applies just as well to anyone working at becoming a better leader. Truth is, I’ve been making a very similar claim for years to the aspiring leaders I coach and train.

The secret behind the claim is simple: momentum bolsters motivation. The greater the evidence of progress, the easier it is to stick with the work needed for improvement. A sense of achievement sustains a learning effort. That 50% gain can be just too subtle to keep you going. The quadruple gain though is hard to ignore, creating momentum that feeds on itself.

Early on in my return to drumming, progress came quickly and obviously. That progress fed a passion for more practice. Problems set in though as progress became more subtle, and the breakthroughs farther apart. The more that practice time and effort seemed to produce little in return, the the easier it became to convince myself to do other things rather than practice.

I see the same mechanism at work in the progression of aspiring leaders. A workshop, coaching session or on the job experience inspires initial attempts at change. Early progress motivates further effort. Eventually though, the low hanging fruit has been picked and the easier steps have been taken. Evidence of progress wanes, and along with it motivation for continuing change. You begin to feel you are not getting anywhere, and then you really are not.

The prescription for this problem is simple, and it works just as well for developing leaders as it does for drummers. You need to enhance or amp up your perception of progress. Progress is there, just harder to see. Here is what I suggest to capture and sustain the momentum for your personal change effort.

Design a Concrete Destination. Set personal development goals that are specific and near-term. Overly general or vague goals won’t offer much to truly measure progress against. If you can’t count it, hear it, or take a picture of it, how will you know you have achieved it? In our busy, changeable work lives, short-term (30-90 days) goals are more realistic and visible than goals that stretch out over a longer period. And, they create tangible evidence of gain sooner. If you are working on something that takes a longer time, identify a closer in milestone along the way, an interim achievement to provide a more immediate focus for your efforts.

Track Your Journey. Start a development journal, a place where you can record goals and track accomplishments. You need a tangible way to look back, one that allows you to actually “see” progress. Our memories just don’t provide a reliable enough way to do this. For my drumming, a groove I’ve been working on may not seem any better in my head, until compared to a recording of the same groove made a month ago. Keeping a written journal of your leadership progress is a simple act that immediately impacts your sense of progress and achievement.

Make Tracking a Ritual. Humans enjoy ritual. We get enjoyment from the routines and requirements that make the ritual unique. Turn the act of journaling into your ritual by, for example, doing it at the same time every day, in a book or computer log used only for that purpose, perhaps using a specific pen – whatever helps make this a special event in your day. And just as with other rituals you follow, if you miss journaling one day, be sure to get back on the horse and do it the next.

Capture Detail and Impact. The more detail you put into your journal entries, the easier it gets to see real progress. Jot down what you did, what happened, what you learned, what you are planning to do next, etc. Knowing you intend to capture these details in your journal forces you to be more attentive while you practice. The more personal your entries, the more meaningful they will be for you. Take time to appreciate the steps along your path, rather than just looking forward to the destination.

Celebrate Progress and Achievement. Think about when you’ll do your look-backs to assess progress. Each time you journal it may make sense to go back a day or two just for reference and continuity. To get the full impact of the real progress you’ve made though, you need the perspective of time. In a typical leadership development effort, you might need as much as a month between full reviews to really see that indeed progress has been made. Seeing concrete progress creates the sense of momentum you need to stay motivated. Celebrating your achievements reinforces that progress, fueling the energy you need to take further steps down the path toward being a better leader.

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Author: Randy Parkin

Randy, a Partner in Key Consulting Group, is passionate about developing leaders, their teams, and the organizations in which they work. He started out doing "real work" in factories, landscaping and a gold mine, before spending the last 30+ years as a trainer, coach and consultant.

Learn more about Randy here...
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