Catalytic Leaders are Destined to Leave Their Mark

Chloe Hooper

It’s often said that the pace of change will never be slower than today and never be simpler than yesterday. There’s no question that these passing years have catapulted our organisations into a future very little were expecting. But as organisations begin to transition their state from merely surviving to intentionally thriving, they must first ask – where should our priorities lie?

Organisations are opening their doors, welcoming their team back, old, and new. Dynamics shifted or instead, completely restructured; emerging business challenges more complex than the last. The pandemic fog is lifting, so where can our leaders begin to gain some clarity?

Amongst the more desired changes lately, hybrid working, flexible hours and a digital workplace, have come some not so desirable implications- the great resignation, low employee satisfaction and a loss of purpose.

Why? Because, regardless of the education, the preparation or anticipation of change- its management continues to be largely lacking. Leaders are left wondering, where did it go wrong?

Coaches are selling change as if it’s a missing ingredient- as if it’s the one and only reason the latest organisation-wide directive didn’t take flight. But we’re missing the point, initiatives, management plans, seminars, they don’t make the change- people do.

Some time ago, a group of entrepreneurs were considering their strategy of breaking into the footwear market when they founded ‘Nothing New’, spearheading a trend that both solved the solution of additional waste and established a powerfully environmental brand movement, using literally nothing new in their products.

Comparatively, The Walking Co, a well-known footwear retailer filed for bankruptcy around the same time and has since stopped trading. The CEO accredits its position with multiple downwind decisions that led to a failure to transition successfully to e-commerce.

Countless examples of the same stature can be analysed, yet the message remains clear: Change is a non-linear journey, and our leaders are the drivers.

I liken this process to something we observe every day in chemicals, much without notice. A catalyst is a material that speeds up or rebuilds chemical reactions into their new forms. In a similar light to our leaders, chemical catalysts are the unsung heroes of chemical reactions that make the impossible, possible. With help from a catalyst, molecules that might take years to interact can now do so in seconds. My belief is that our leaders can be the catalysts of the most complex business transformations.

Picture this:  A creative, high-energy individual walks into a room, a bounce in their step, self-assured yet open-minded. The perfect concoction of innovation meets skilful. These people change the atmosphere of the room as easily as they take a breath. These are the same people who approach problem-solving as leisure. Modern, future-forward ideas flow as easy as passing thoughts for them- or so it seems.

You know the people I’m talking about because once you’ve met them, you’ll find you can never forget them. They leave you taken back a little, thinking ‘they’re going places’. They are destined to leave their mark on the world.

One of the greatest misconceptions is that these people, the catalysts of the workplace, are born, not made. They are seasoned by experience, some innate trait or a pearl of other-worldly wisdom rather than by practice.

Being a catalyst of change is many things, but quintessentially, it is intentional.

Catalytic leaders need to be self-aware enough when they’re driving to switch the tracks from being ‘inactive’ to ‘active’. To start, ask yourself these questions:

What change do I want to see occur?
What action can I take that will catalyse the change, will point people in the right direction, and/or will encourage them to join me?
Is the timing right?

Most importantly: take that action.

Change is approaching whether we’re prepared for it or not, and in times desperate for clarity- we continue to turn to change management models, an enlightening read, but little more than curated words with limited ability to adapt, fluctuate or manoeuvre human experiences along the journey.

So, I ask again, if the drivers of success are our leaders, where should our priorities lie?

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