When I met Anika she was in a state of paralysis because she had so many things happening at once.

She was in negotiation to become a partner in her medical practice. She had previously run her own practice, but was eager to become part of an existing practice at this stage. She was trying to write a book summarizing research she had been conducting with her patients. She was looking at creating an app to better support her patients and others. And she was thinking about models of medicine and medical practices that she may be able to franchise. She was catalyzing change and everywhere she looked was opportunity.

In the course of our work she decided to take time to focus on the partnership in her practice first, or at least with most dedicated time. There were two existing partners and she was ready to jump in – she had a clear vision of how the practice could improve, could grow, better serve patients and become a model for medical practices around the country.

Yet she kept finding herself frustrated because her partners seemed to respond in baffling ways such as taking long periods of time to respond, looking at her blankly when she was sharing ideas, or even becoming defensive.

Anika had worked with these colleagues for some time and had built trust, so she didn’t understand why it felt like they didn’t trust her in these discussions.

Looking back now Anika can see the places she made mistakes that many Catalytic Leaders make.

Models of Leadership

Let’s align around a typical model of leadership. To get things done well a leader can set a vision, orchestrate those that will be contributing or impacted and then implement. We can see the linearity and tactical nature of the model whereby one first creates a vision, then orchestrates the steps and others and then everyone implements each step.

A Typical Leadership Model

For Catalysts this model looks slightly different. Catalysts talk about two additional elements in their process: Storming and Iterating. And rather than tactical implementing, Catalysts talk more of manifesting change.

A Catalytic Model of Leadership

Storming is the period during which an idea is still forming and has not yet crystallized into a Vision. The name explains both the impairment of a lack of clarity – it is hard to see through a storm – and the tumultuous feelings that may accompany this period. This can be a time that feels like mania – both to the catalyst and those closest to them. It can be a wonderful feeling. And can be intensely uncomfortable. There is ambiguity during this period. Some catalysts are comfortable with ambiguity, but many are not. They simply come to understand it is part of the process.

Clarity may emerge over the course of one meeting – collecting data, collecting data, then ZING move to VISION. Or it may take more time. The more complex the problem, likely the more time and inputs it needs to solidify into a Vision.

A second unique element in the Catalytic Leadership model is the magical feeling of manifestation, as opposed to the tactical steps of implementation.

A final difference is that Catalytic Leaders iterate – pretty much from the beginning and every minute thereafter. This is hardly surprising given this is a telltale sign of a Catalyst – to take in new information and make changes based on it. To a Catalyst no endeavor is static… it must bend to the most recent information.

The Mistakes

Now that we have a model to work from, let’s discuss the most common mistakes.

#1 – Sharing Too Soon

The first common mistake that Catalytic Leaders make takes place during the STORM phase. Many Catalysts are external processors so a key way to get through the storm is to talk to people about what they are seeing. Plus they are OOZING with passion and excitement so they are excited to tell people.

However, remember from challenges, Catalysts can be feared because they represent change and challenge to the status quo. Therefore talking to people about what you are brewing without a clear idea of the impact it may have on others, their workload, even their jobs, SCARES THEM!!

Sharing too soon can result in fear, uncertainty and lack of trust.

#2 – Jumping from Vision to Manifest…Leaving People Behind

By far the most common mistake Catalytic Leaders make is not taking the time to orchestrate those who will be responsible to drive things forward or will be impacted in some way. Catalysts jump from Vision to Manifestation – because Catalysts often just ‘know’ and move to action without really thinking about it. They often don’t think to create a vision or orchestrate people because they assume those around them saw everything they did.

A common refrain of Catalysts: “We were all in the same meeting, I assumed we all heard the same thing, and therefore came to the same conclusion.” The next steps are usually so obvious, it often doesn’t occur to them to explain the steps, let alone a vision, to others.

Even if they do take the time to create and share a vision, being an orchestra conductor doesn’t happen in one share. Orchestrating a movement takes TIME. And impatient, quick moving Catalysts aren’t always great at taking that time. And orchestrating a movement requires REPEATING oneself. However, Catalysts aren’t great at repeating the same thing because they are on to the next thing.

Even when we get comfortable repeating a Vision over and over, the pace of orchestration can be frustrating and exhausting for Catalysts because catalysts naturally work at a superwoman pace.

Catalysts replenish by manifesting, not orchestrating – so they jump to action.

#3 – Iterating too Quickly and Often

A final common mistake Catalytic Leaders run into is the speed at which they iterate. One of the defining attributes of Catalysts is they have a learning mindset and information is quickly turned into iterative steps for action. Plus a catalyst takes in information real-time (versus taking a long time to process information).

Therefore once implementing or manifesting begins they optimize the path on the fly. Sometimes this is an optimization of the implementation process. Sometimes this is an iteration of the Vision itself. For those trying to be a part of a project like this it can feel like quick sand. They may have just met with the leader himself, but hears from a colleague that things are different. This can cause confusion, ambiguity or distrust. Even people very comfortable with change and ambiguity can struggle here, especially if the leader isn’t skilled at orchestrating.

How Catalytic Leaders Grow

But not all hope is lost. There are examples of Catalytic Leaders who lead and disrupt beautifully! So let’s talk about what great Catalytic Leaders have learned over time and how they do things differently.

First, during STORMING, successful catalytic leaders lean into co-creation which has two key components:

They have a trusted group of people with whom they can share what they are learning, bounce ideas and co-create a vision.
As these leaders gain comfort in their skin they are very open about themselves as change agents and disruptors. And they move into roles that call for that. They are hired specifically for that talent. So they can share their process with people. And if they help teams or organizations move through change in ways that align, this becomes part of their brand.

Secondly, learning to slow down and bring people along on the journey is critical. This starts by explaining and modeling their vision, ideally with something tangible that people can interact with and look at later, for example a model or a picture.

Also, successful catalytic leaders learn to repeat the same information over and over. Communication frequency research in advertising has found you need to repeat something to people between 3-21 times to have it get through – the newer the concept, the more times needed. Because Catalysts are usually bringing something very NEW – perhaps an entirely new paradigm – the most successful Catalysts become skilled at sharing the same visuals and presentations over and over and over and over and over and over again… despite their desire to stick a pencil in their eye. They know the importance of this for the long game. This also keeps the Catalytic Leader accountable to not shifting that Vision too drastically.

Ultimately it will help to consider yourself not just a manifestor, but an orchestra conductor. And the orchestra is the way you manifest your bigger movements.

Finally, becoming much more deliberate once the orchestra is playing is important. Successful catalytic leaders learn to slow down optimization and allow the team to gain the skills to evaluate and tweak, only stepping-in to dictate when necessary.

Exceptional catalytic leaders know they can’t change the world without bringing the team along … even if that means things won’t happen exactly as they’d like or at the pace they’d like.

Back to Anika

Fast forward to Anika today. She has come to understand her catalytic tendencies and the impact they can have on her partners. Not only has she learned to seed only a few ideas at a time (versus coming with a full page of new ideas each meeting), but she has come to learn that her own ideas actually get better when she slows down and takes the time to co-create with them.

Now they have a shared vision and have regularly scheduled meetings to discuss orchestration and implementation toward that future – collaboratively.


This is a guest post by Tracey Lovejoy, as previously published here.

Catalysts drive change. But being a catalyst isn’t really a choice… it’s a way of being. If unsupported, catalytic behavior often leads to burnout, chaos, and even isolation. Are you a Catalyst?  Join our upcoming webinar with Tracey Lovejoy and Shannon Lucas on May 23, 10am EST/4pm CEST, and get concrete insights about what it means to be a catalyst and how you can create a sustainable path forward to realize your vision.