The Catalytic Leader

Jan 12, 2023 5 Min Read
 red paper boat symbolically represents a leader

Image is from by @freepik.

Do You Have What It Takes to be a Catalytic Leader?

The Purposeful Leader is someone who is secure and confident in who they are, competent with a servant-heart in what they do; and acts as a catalyst to spur others into future possibilities. We continue our Purposeful Leadership Series where the Confident Leader implements, the Competent Leader influences, the Compelling Leader inspires and the Catalytic Leader impels.

The Catalytic Leader is like a rocket launcher that impels (thrusts) people into a forward motion. But unlike a “bazooka” or “RPG”, the Catalytic Leader does not bring destruction nor destitute. Instead, the Catalytic Leader launches others into greatness, immersed in multiple possibilities. They thrust people through strategic positioning, tenacious propelling, and intentional praising

1. Strategic Positioning

Badminton legends Rudy Hartono, Yang Yang and Lee Chong Wei, will tell you it’s all about positioning. If you can position yourself well, you have a much better chance of hitting the shuttle well. The Catalytic Leader positions themselves and others so when the opportunity presents itself, they are ready. 

Lee Chong Wei at The French Open 2011

When positioning is intentional, pandering is unnecessary. The Catalytic Leader’s intentional positioning creates opportunities for others - they don’t wait for things to happen; they make things happen. Pandering however, has the opposite effect - to “go with the flow” and the “flavour of the month” is the agenda. Often it is camouflaged as being flexible and not rigid. But don’t be fooled! Do it long enough, and others will see you’re not intentional but merely seeking to please people around you. 

Strategic positioning is non-circumstantial. While there may be different scenarios and permutation of possibilities, the positioning is intentional. The Catalytic Leader positions themselves with the intention to give, instead of to get. How can I make time in my week / month / year, so that I can position myself to invest / help / develop / encourage someone. If my schedule is constantly packed to the brim, I can only make room for others when something is cancelled - that’s circumstantial and not intentional.

Strategic positioning creates opportunities, not opposition. Comedian Michael Jr. explains how comedy works. Comedians tell a story that leads the audience in a certain direction; then all of a sudden, there would be a shift in the story; the audience would react to it and the element of (pleasant) surprise is expressed through bursts of laughter. He calls this the “setup” and the “punchline”.  Without the setup (story), there can’t be a punchline (laughter). Likewise, Catalytic Leaders are the driving force behind the setup (opportunities). Many times, we forget the importance of the “setup” and we’re so engrossed in the “punchline”. But together with being intentional and non-circumstantial, Catalytic Leaders create opportunities (setup) that enable people to thrive and celebrate the “punchline”.

2. Tenacious Propelling

The Catalytic Leader is constantly propelling others to greatness. They see the (hidden) potential, draws the best out of people and propels them forward. In doing so, Catalytic Leaders build confidence in others. They remove ambiguity and inferiority complex by bringing clarity and boldness. 

When Catalytic Leaders propel others, it is enabling and not stifling. Because they are also Confident Leaders, they are secure in who they are and unafraid to create platforms for others to succeed. They are like the ground that provides good soil for the mustard seed to grow into a giant tree. 

The confidence injected is not one of false confidence or what I’d like to call “empty confidence”. False / “empty” confidence is found to be self-believing, self-motivational and self-enabling. Yes, I believe self-confidence is important. But a Catalytic Leader doesn’t stop there. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way” - John Maxwell. Therefore, the Catalytic Leader is one who propels others into a journey they have once travelled. It may not be exactly the same, but it has enough characteristics and elements for them to say, “trust (have confidence in) me, I’ve walked down this path - follow me”.

Sometime around August 2005 (I think), I was part of a team that ran a 4-day Leadership Workshop for a global FMCG company in Jakarta. It was one of the cohorts for the top 100 leaders in the company. After being on the road for over an hour, we finally arrived at the workshop venue. The setup for the evening was fairly straightforward and we went through our roles for the workshop. Yours truly was a young junior consultant, tasked mainly to do setup and observation. 

The next morning, we welcomed participants and the workshop got off to a good start. Midway through, my colleague, the workshop leader, stepped up and said to me, “Bernard, I would like you to step into the centre and take the participants through the next slide”. Time stood still for me as I was left in a daze. “You want me to speak? But who am I?”. I felt inadequate, insecure, and incompetent - even though I had some knowledge of the topic. I can’t recall what my colleague said after that, but it was along the lines of “It’s ok, I’m here if you need me”. While I may not have remembered his exact words, I remembered how he made me feel - secure, safe, and self-assured. He gave me courage to do the unthinkable. He propelled me forward!

3. Intentional Praising

Ken Blanchard often speaks about praise. In the One Minute Manager, Ken tells leaders to find one thing the people are doing right. Give them praise for that one thing and encourage them to do more. 

Through intentional praising, Catalytic Leaders encourage others to reflect on their actions. By being specific in their praise, they offer authentic feedback that expresses genuine observation and affirmation. This type of praise becomes an encouragement to the recipient and inspires (and excites) them to do better!

Intentional authentic praise can bring encouragement and all of us can do with some encouragement! Simply put, to encourage is to give courage to others. They think they can do it, but the added encouragement gives them courage to make the attempt to do it.

Read more: 6 Ways Great Bosses Thank Their Employees

Intentional, authentic encouraging and praise empower. Empowerment is about wanting to do something based on your convictions. Not because you are told or you have to do it, but because you want to do it. Empowering is about enabling - the key is in the enablement and not the doing. The choice of doing something (actions) comes from your purpose. Empowerment enables you to make that choice. 


How to Boost Your Leadership Authenticity With Three Words

Empowerment Is Not Everything

The Catalytic Leader offers intentional praise that is authentic, and it encourages and empowers others to pursue actions that are aligned to their purpose. When that happens, you have highly engaged leaders who are passionate about what they do, why they are doing it and who they are doing it for. This unleashes limitless possibilities. Hubert Joly (Best Buy) calls this - The Human Magic.

The Catalytic Leader launches others to greatness. Through strategic positioning, tenacious propelling, and intentional praising; leaders have the thrust and propulsion to create a forward momentum. This rippling effect is felt and experienced; and together it gives rise to a sense of renewed leadership.

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Bernard is the Founder of Invigorate Consulting, a firm seeking to connect people and organisations to their purpose. He has over 20 years of management consulting and corporate experience with global organisations. He is also a seasoned facilitator. He enjoys travelling and is excited about the second half of life.

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