Catalyst – The Third C of Leadership

Harry S. Truman once said,

“Men make history and not the other way around.  In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.  Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” 

These history making leaders have a vision for a better future, rally people around the vision, and work with those people to achieve the vision.  In other words, they act as Catalysts.  Therefore, Catalyst, the third C, refers to the leader’s ability to inspire aligned action toward a compelling vision. 

Kouzes and Posner (2006) state that leaders must “inspire a shared vision” by “envisioning the future” and then “enlist others in that common vision by appealing to shared aspirations” (p. 4).  Organizational change expert John Kotter (1995) declares that every successful transformation effort he has researched involved the leaders developing a clear and inspiring vision for the future.  Kanter (2005) puts it this way, “A raw idea…must be shaped into a theme that makes the idea come alive.  Ideas don’t launch productive changes until they become a theme around which others begin to improvise, a vision that raises aspirations” (p. 4).  And, Senge (1990) emphasizes that, “The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance” (p. 488).  And finally, Gill (2003) writes, “A vision is a desired future state: this is the basis for directing the change effort” (p. 312).

In regard to the transformational and servant leadership theories, vision plays a prominent role in both of them.  To begin, the servant-leader characteristics of “conceptualization” and “foresight” emphasize the importance of vision.  Conceptualization is the ability “to dream great dreams,” and foresight is described as “closely related to conceptualization” because of its focus on future possibilities (Spears, 2002, p. 7).  Next, the inspirational motivation factor of transformational leadership involves leaders creating excitement and enthusiasm around the vision through the use of symbols, emotional appeals, and simple messages (Northouse, 2010).  This link between the vision and motivation is one of the main reasons why it is so important to leadership.

Motivation expert Kenneth W. Thomas (2009) explains, “the purpose and vision, then, provided a target that could align the efforts of different people to solve problems and cooperate….the compelling vision was a strong motivational force that inspired people” (p. 23).  It is important to note, however, that when it comes to creating a vision or purpose statement, research has shown that not all visions are equally effective.

According to Thomas (2009), workers are rarely inspired by purposes that are focused on making a profit or other economic considerations.  Instead, the vision or purpose statement should connect to workers’ need for recognition, responsibility, and the opportunity to fulfill one’s potential.  For example, Chick-fil-A’s mission statement, “Be America’s Best Quick-Service Restaurant” hits on all of these needs.  The focus on being known as the best speaks to one’s need for recognition and fulfilled potential, and it makes the employees responsible to America for their service.  In the end, however, having a vision is not enough.  Leaders need to utilize the rest of the Cs in order to go about achieving the vision.

[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.”  In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration.  Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]

Referenced Works:

  • Gill R., (2003). Change management or change leadership. Journal of Change Management 3(4), 307-318.
  • Kanter, R. M. (2005). Leadership for change: Enduring skills for change masters.  Teaching Note, Harvard Business School Publishing, 1-15.
  • Kotter, J.P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformational efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 1-9.
  • Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed). Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Senge, P.M. (2003). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. In J. S. Ott. Classic reading in organizational behavior (pp. 484-491). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
  • Spears, L. C. (2002). Tracing the past, present, and future of servant-leadership. In L. C. Spears, & M. Lawrence. (Eds.), Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the 21st century. (pp. 1-16). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Thomas, K.W. (2009).  Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.

How Leaders Can Facilitate Change

Change is an integral part of any type of growth.  If any organization is to grow, leadership must recognize that change is inevitable, and then set up a process to help people embrace it.  Too often, employees experience what they perceive to be random attempts at change with no thought-out plan.  It is these impulsive and unsuccessful change attempts which lead to an organizational culture of skepticism and negativity.  To prevent such a culture from taking root in their organizations, leaders need to: (a) be aware that most people dislike change, (b) solicit input from the employees, and (c) communicate and celebrate the change.   

When trying to implement a change, the first thing leaders need to understand is that most people reject change.  In fact, up to 80% of people in an organization can be labeled as reactive thinkers.  Reactive thinkers tend to resist change, avoid responsibility, fear taking risks, and have low confidence (Oakley and Krug, 1991).  Therefore, change efforts must begin by changing the mindset of these individuals As Oakley and Krug emphasize, one of leadership’s main responsibilities is to bring out the best in those they lead Attitude is critical to performance, and one of the key issues behind attitude is one’s self-esteem.  One way to help improve employee self-esteem is by soliciting their input during the change process.

Some leaders have the “it’s my way or the highway” mentality – they believe they can impose their ideas onto other people.  And yet, as Oakley and Krug point out, this philosophy does not work for implementing long-term change (1991).  Instead of only telling people what to do, leaders should strive to engage employees in the change process.  Leaders can do this by asking for employee feedback, questions, and ideas to make the change more successful.  This experience not only increases employees’ self-esteem and confidence, it also helps employees feel a sense of ownership for the change initiative. 

Engaging people throughout the change process facilitates organizational “buy-in.”  Without such commitment it will be impossible to move change forward.  Another way to develop buy-in is by building trust with one’s employees.  It is only when people trust a leader that they will be willing to follow him or her into the unknown territory of change.

One way of building trust is through constant, clear, and honest communication.  The first step in the communication process is to develop a clear vision around why the change needs to take place and what it will look like.  Unless change is clear in the leader’s mind, it will be impossible for him or her to communicate a compelling vision to others (the same is true for leadership teams).

Once the leader is clear on the vision, he/she needs to communicate it.  Leaders can communicate the vision by delivering speeches, sending emails, posting the vision statement on the wall, participating in discussions – but most importantly –  by “living out” the message.  As Kotter (1995) says, “Communication comes in both word and deeds, and the latter are often the most powerful form” (p.65).

This consistent communication in word and deed will reinforce the change process as will celebrating successes.  Many times leaders are so bogged down with trying to achieve results, they do not take the time, energy, and resources to acknowledge success.  For employees, the perception of never being recognized can erode their desire to engage in change as engaging usually takes great effort.  One way to combat this is by celebrating short-term wins and recognizing, perhaps even rewarding, employees for their involvement in the change process (1995).

Overall, leaders need to remember that change does not happen overnight.  Instead, it is a long and deliberate process that requires engaging one’s employees, communicating a clear vision, and celebrating successes along the way.  When used together, these actions will help employees open their minds and be more receptive to new ideas and change in order to help the organization grow.

Resources:

  • Kotter, J. (March, 1995). Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review.
  • Oakely, E., Krug, D. (1991). Enlightened leadership. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.