In this series, we're focusing on nourishing a culture of leadership by applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this episode, we're exploring the principle of being a catalyst. Leadership often requires that change must be initiated, sometimes even transformative change to accomplish the business goals. To initiate such change, it is useful if the leader has skillfulness in being a catalyst.
Leadership Development Focus: Catalyst
Let us begin by thinking of a catalyst as an element or energy that initiates a reaction. This is a very general and simplified concept of being a catalyst, offering you the opportunity to think of catalysts you have experienced. A catalyst is anything that initiates change. Something like a kettle of boiling water is a catalyst as the contained water, when heated, creates steam.
People can also be catalysts. Think of two people who are with each other who are not getting along. Now imagine a third person walking in who is exuding happiness, smiling a big smile. This happy person changes the mood and energy of the two people who were not getting along. When a person is a catalyst, it can be the nature of the person such as in this example of the happy person, or it can be in an action taken by the person. A person taking action as a catalyst will discover expected and unexpected outcomes.
Leadership often requires that change must be initiated, sometimes even transformative change to accomplish the business goals. To initiate such change, it is useful if the leader has skillfulness in being a catalyst. A really skillful leader inspires people to be more motivated, more productive. Another type of leader may be a catalyst for productivity by inducing fear in the people. Both behave as catalysts.
A leader, taking any action, is being a catalyst for the people who report to that leader. A difference in being skillful as a catalyst is being aware and intentional as a catalyst, rather than being unaware of the catalyst impact.
A challenge for leadership is how to be the most positive catalyst, building people up instead of tearing them down.
Developing Leadership Skillfulness in Being a Catalyst
The exercises we are recommending to you in this Leadership Development Coffee Break are about exploring the importance and effect of being an intentional catalyst.
Step One: adjusting your thoughts and beliefs about the importance of being a catalyst
Think of the catalyst as an ingredient, when added to what is already present, that brings about a change, even a transformation. The ingredient can be added intentionally or unintentionally. You could think of yourself as an energy field and that the energy field, just like the energy field of a fire producing heat, is a catalyst. It is an energy that can ignite things, change things, heat things up.
It is important to remember the context in which you are carrying out this catalyst role. It is a context of accomplishing a desired business or organizational goal.
Within this context, explore your thoughts and beliefs about the importance of being a catalyst. What is the value of being an intentional catalyst for change to achieve a desired business or organizational goal?
Step Two: imagine what happens after acting as a catalyst and get comfortable with it
Being an intentional catalyst can feel like a great responsibility. A responsibility you will need to become comfortable with. Imagine the experience of acting as a catalyst. Once you act as a catalyst, a series of reactions unfold, a process of the people in the system responding to the catalytic act. You can imagine some of the reactions. It is important to use your imagination to have a positive expectancy.
When you are intentionally acting as a catalyst, imagine the response of the change in the system. Imagine the best possible outcomes from your intentional act. The possible outcomes will help you to see what the best intentional act is.
Step Three: imagine positive results
You cannot predict or control the reactions. They will simply happen. Imagine the chain reaction resulting in a different configuration of behaviors, actions, and conversations. A different configuration is capable of achieving different results. Those different results are going to get you closer to achieving the business goal that you started being the catalyst for in the first place.
What are the positive results you can imagine from being a catalyst in a particular situation?
Step Four: practice
As you contemplate becoming skillful in being a catalyst, you may feel fear. The results of any catalytic act are unpredictable. Change has a lot of unknown attached to it. To overcome the fear, you will need to practice. Practice will not stop unexpected outcomes. It will, however, assist you to be confident as a catalyst, and with confidence comes an increased energy behind your choices and decisions. The increased energy does make the catalytic effect a little more predictable.
Your power stops where your fear begins and so by practicing and gaining confidence, you overcome your fear. In overcoming your fear, you are not afraid of making decisions and acting on them, which brings about a change.
Strengthening Your Leadership Skillfulness in Being a Catalyst
As you become aware of consciously, intentionally being a catalyst, you will have the experience of flexing a muscle that you might already have been aware of or of building a new muscle. As you become aware of the leadership power in being a catalyst, it can feel frightening. One way to move forward and to strengthen your leadership skillfulness in being a catalyst is to look for simpler opportunities. Going back to the example given earlier of the person who is happy and smiling shifting the energy of the two people who were not getting along is one of those simpler ways of being a catalyst. You could try being that person, being happy, giving the people in the room a big, authentic smile, and see what happens.
Beginning with simple steps will steadily grow your skillfulness in being a catalyst. This will build your muscle so that you gain confidence in leadership skillfulness with being a catalyst in relation to bigger goals within the work that you are doing. You may not need to use this skill often in an intentional way.
For the times that you do need to use it, it is good to have developed this skillfulness in yourself. It is part of a large number of leadership skills that require leaders to step into the unknown. It is not only being able to step into the unknown, it is being able to do so quickly with no hesitation and positive expectancy.
If it feels right, add your intentions for becoming skillful in being a catalyst into your personal leadership development plan.
About the Developing Leadership Series
We work the Genuine Contact way, nourishing a culture of leadership, applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this learning series, Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership. We'll be inviting you to consider your own experiences in life and business so far, and how you want to further your leadership development with this theme.
In this series, our intention is to offer you unique opportunities to continually develop your leadership. By developing your leadership you expand your potential. Your life changes and you gain greater insights and capacity for leading your life. Your leadership of your team, organization, congregation, and even your family brings about possibility thinking, transcending ordinary thinking and ordinary results.
In each episode, we will be exploring one key principle. You will hear our own experiences and understanding of each of these timeless principles. We'll suggest simple activities you can do to develop your own leadership by working with these principles too. Subscribe to receive future episodes by email.