The Leadership Catalyst

Thesis Summary

This is an excerpt from the conclusion of my thesis for my Master's of Science degree in Organizational Dynamics, from the University of Pennsylvania. My thesis title is The Leadership Catalyst: A New Paradigm for Helping Leadership Flourish in Organizations.

There is a magnet on the door of my refrigerator that has a quote by Thomas Edison, “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” I do not remember when we got the magnet or how long it has been there. I was only peripherally aware of it until recently—but for some reason, it caught my eye and struck a chord. My thalamus made a determination that it was worthy of conscious attention and had me see it again as if it were new and noteworthy. Reflecting on the message, I recognized that it speaks to why I do what I do. I provide performance improvement education and training because I want to help people astound themselves. I want to help people learn to live more powerful, playful, passionate lives. People deserve to wake up in the morning, excited about their day and how they can make a difference. People deserve to be delighted with themselves for being able to do more of what they are capable of doing.

I believe that my Leadership Catalyst model can help people astound themselves—whether they follow the concept for business or personal reasons. By focusing on the kind of person they want to be in the world and using that higher purpose as a bellwether for their actions, people can begin changing the course of their lives. They can start Being differently.

By Being Mindful, people can identify when their behaviors are not working for them. Many times, our conditioned behaviors serve a useful purpose, but sometimes they make the situation worse. Yet we keep doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” has a reverse corollary: “You can’t fix it if you don’t know what’s broke.” By Being Mindful when an area of their life is not working, people can identify how they might be getting in their own way. Then they can do something about it.

By looking at how they are Being Connected, people can better establish and nurture their relationships. Nothing big and amazing has been accomplished by a solo person—even Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Neil Armstrong, Warren Buffet, and President Obama had other people involved in their success. To quote Margaret Mead,  “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has”     (Krieger, 2002, p. 335).  By Being Connected, people can build those teams of committed citizens that accomplish big things.

Deciding is not doing, and knowing is not doing, however. Doing takes action. It takes Being Intentional. People who are Being Intentional are purposeful in what they do. They are continuously diagnosing where they and their teams are with regard to what they are committed to doing—and then designing activities that not only get them past the roadblocks but also increase the cohesion, collaboration, and effectiveness of the group. By Being Intentional, people see conflict not as something to be avoided but as something constructive—as a step toward understanding others and finding a different answer that comprises what both parties deem right. As Mary Parker Follet says, “The end result of conflict management—indeed, the only way to resolve a conflict—is not ‘victory,’ not ‘compromise.’ It is integration of interests” (1995, p. 4).

By taking on Being Generative, people find ways to breed enthusiasm, engagement, and commitment—for themselves as well as the people around them. When people are hesitant to act, they are often told, Just throw your cap over the wall! But this adage only works if it is a damn fine cap. People who are Being Generative speak to others’ noble purposes. They provide the vision of a better future to strive for and live into. Along with the committed citizens to change the world, there is a powerful vision or purpose that generates that kind of commitment.

Many changes for the better start with stepping out of the current paradigm: You cannot make scrambled eggs without breaking the eggshell paradigm, and, likewise, you cannot start Amazon.com without breaking the brick-and-mortar-bookstore paradigm. By Being Heretical, people pay attention to how things might be better for them and their organizations while staying loyal to their organizations. People who practice Being Heretical look at their organization through different lenses that have them see things in a new way. They do not let themselves be artificially constrained by organizational norms just because We have always done it that way. By Being Heretical, people can be proactive in finding new opportunities for success that would not have been possible had they gone along with business-as-usual.

The way I see it, Being a Leadership Catalyst is a paradigm for self-improvement, but it is also a means of paying it forward. As leaders, we should want to make things better. We should want to make a difference—not only for the organizations we join but also for the people we work with. This is Gary Hamel’s vision for a better workplace, from his book The Future of Management, which helped inspire my model:

"I dream of organizations that are capable of spontaneous renewal, where the drama of change is unaccompanied by the wrenching trauma of a turnaround. I dream of businesses where an electric current of innovation pulses through every activity, where the renegades always trump the reactionaries. I dream of companies that actually deserve the passion and creativity of the folks who work there, and naturally elicit the very best that people have to give. Of course, these are more than dreams; they are imperatives. They are do-or-die challenges for any company that hopes to thrive in the tumultuous times ahead—and they can be surmounted only with inspired management innovation." (2007, p. xi)

By Being Leadership Catalysts, we can contribute to the success of others by teaching them what they are capable of, and we can exponentially increase the effects of our efforts because we create leaders who create other leaders, and so on.

The Leadership Catalyst model now serves as my guide for helping people learn to astound themselves. It is my call to action for people to start doing something different so that they can start getting different results and inspire the same for others. It is my challenge to organizations to do something to “deserve the passion and creativity of the folks who work there, and naturally elicit the very best that people have to give.”


Sources

Follett, M. P., & Graham, P. (1995). Mary Parker Follett--prophet of management : a celebration of writings from the 1920s. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Hamel, G. (2007). The future of management. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Krieger, R. A. (2002). Civilization's quotations : life's ideal. New York: Algora Pub.