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.

Leading Change

New years tend to bring new resolutions. Are you trying to implement some changes inside your organization?  If so, remember, consistent communication reinforces the change process.  What some more information?  Here’s a link to an overview of John Kotter’s classic article, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.”