The Time-Momentum Equation

The Time-Momentum Equation

In other cases, the manipulation of time is less tangible. For example, one of the great skills that invincible executives have is the ability to build momentum in a project. Momentum is the acceleration of work within a set time period. It requires the ability to inspire, cajole, push, and drive a project toward a conclusion such that more gets accomplished in a shorter period of time than anyone could have possibly imagined at the outset of a project. The process can also be envisioned as the stretching of time "like a piece of chewing gum," as a patent-holding industrial engineer told me, to allow more to occur during a set interval.

Invincible executives build momentum by transferring their vision and enthusiasm for a particular project to their colleagues with both a carrot and a stick. The carrot is incentive—knowledge that success will bring specifically defined rewards. Invincible executives give their coworkers a "picture of the conclusion"—a vision of what the professional landscape will look like after the project is successfully accomplished, according to former Senator and Waco Special Counsel John Danforth. They allow others to visualize the greatness of the future. In effect, they manipulate time through the effective presentation today of a positive tomorrow. This process builds momentum and makes time work in favor of the group.

The stick is risk—knowledge that failure will have negative repercussions. Invincible executives tacitly paint the bleak picture of failure in the future—a subliminal parallel universe in which things are not going well. Remember, however, the carrot is in the foreground and is the focus of discussion; the stick is an undercurrent in the background. The invincible executive is always adept at manipulating time by building momentum in this fashion.

The invincible executive also knows when the flexibility of time must end. Leading medical researcher and academic Dr. Joshua Korzenik, for example, believes that flexibility in the area of medical research is critical. However, one of the biggest flaws among those who ultimately fail, he notes, is the inability to "realize that you are done." You should take as many detours as you need to take to ensure the integrity of your work, but eventually you have to arrive at a destination, according to Korzenik. Part of successful time manipulation involves ending a project cleanly.

Flex and Flack

A lot of people are not going to like this paragraph, but do not kill the messenger—I am reporting what I learned from the best. Harnessing time successfully often means that you have to get others to work to your schedule. Invincible executives usually resist what one of them termed "out of sync" work patterns. Most invincible executives, for example, do not favor "flextime" employees who do not work five days a week or employees who work different hours than everyone else in the organization. Some of them put up with it; few of them like it. They generally do not mind employees working off-site, but they find part-timers to be frustrating. For most invincible executives in traditional corporate environments, flextime puts the individual's schedule ahead of the enterprise schedule. It reduces the capacity of the executive to control time.

The legendary August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch fame, for example, has, I am told, made it clear to his direct reports that if he is at the office and needs some advice, and the person whose advice he needs is not available due to some sort of flexible schedule, he will hold the flex employee's boss responsible for any cost increase, schedule slippage, customer relations problems, or legal issues that arise because of the incompatible scheduling of his time with that of his employees. He does not prohibit employees whose schedules are out of sync with his, but he prevents it from interfering with the goals of the organization by adding a layer of responsibility for any negative repercussions.

As the world becomes increasingly technologically connected, the issue of out-of-sync timing will likely diminish. People will be able to use technology to make themselves accessible in an emergency at any time. This may not be good from a standpoint of quality of life, but it will, I predict, soften the view of most invincible executives that alternative work schedules hinder an employee's ability to progress. That means that if you have one of these flexible schedules, you should take extra steps to make yourself accessible by phone or e-mail. You should have specific discussions with your superiors about your accessibility—particularly how to reach you in the event of an emergency.