Sideways Energy – the Great Momentum Killer

Last summer on a family trip up north we encountered some crazy wind while on the highway in Illinois.  The wind gusts were enough to push our van into the next lane as well as onto the shoulder at times.  I hate losing time on the road, but in order to keep us moving forward safely I had to drop to a slower driving speed.

That experience on the road was an important reminder to me as a leader: The most common threat to forward momentum is not what comes at you head on, but what comes at you from the side. (click to tweet)

Most of us stay keenly aware of the distraction and disruption that come at us head on. On the road it becomes obvious in a split second when there is an obstacle in our way.  In those moments we strategically veer around the obstacle as fast as we can and keep moving forward.  As a driver I have to stay aware of the barriers in front of me on the road.  Similarly, leaders plan ahead and anticipate the apparent obstacles that might disrupt their plan.

Often times the greatest detriment to our forward momentum is not an opposing force working against you (like an obstacle in the road); it is the subtle push or pull of sideways energy (like the wind gusts on the highway).

Sideways energy is typically not as obvious as a big gust of wind.  It is rarely evident in the moment; but often shows up as a slow push or pull (over time) away from our common objective. Sideways energy is the great momentum killer because it slows progress, pulling our attention away from the main thing. (click to tweet)

What makes sideways energy so dangerous is that it often comes from people on the team, and it is almost never intentional.  Good teammates do not seek to derail momentum and take their team off course.  Most people have trouble identifying in themselves the words, actions and behavior that are self- debilitating to them and their team.

As a tool to help us self-evaluate, here are a few questions to ask of yourself in the arena of sideways energy:

  • Do I have an issue with the vision/direction of my team? If I do, am I discussing that issue with my leader or with my teammates?
  • Do I have any issues with people on my team? If I do, is this relational breakdown causing me to serve differently?
  • Do I have any issues with the culture of my team? If I do, am I working to adjust or am I asking people to adjust around me?
  • Do I have an agenda? Is there something I am attempting to place ahead of the team’s vision?

When you work with people sideways energy is bound to become an issue every once in a while. The key is to address it head on with diligence and humility.

One last thought for leaders – remember that people rarely want to cause sideways energy.  When you spot it, help people see it and correct it.  It will help keep forward momentum, and also serve the person well.

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