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Catalyst leadership: the genius of strength and warmth

In my previous articles I’ve explained that warmth and strength are both equally necessary ingredients for our leadership to be perceived favourably, and for others to engage willingly with us. I also highlighted the more ordinary, ho-hum or downright poor experiences we have of leaders who are only able to show up with only one of these two critical leadership ingredients, or sometimes neither!

When I think about the thousands of leaders I’ve observed, taught, and coached it seems to me that demonstrating either warmth or strength on its own is not particularly difficult. However, bringing them together is.

Our observation is that less than 30% of leaders can bring strength and warmth together consistently when they exercise leadership.

To illustrate the challenge, imagine holding an especially large and powerful magnet in each hand whilst trying to bring the same pole of each magnet together. You will feel a repelling force that increases as the magnets get closer. Closing the last few centimetres to bring the two surfaces together seems impossible. Combining warmth and strength can feel similarly difficult but it is precisely what a small but special group of leaders do. I call these extraordinary individuals Catalyst Leaders.

Magnetic force

Catalyst Leaders

A catalyst leader is different than a typical ordinary leader. They are remarkable for their ability to transform the relationship between people, and the problems and opportunities those same people must face into. In doing so they release others motivation, engagement and commitment to the vision, goals and plans that must be pursued and realised.

Do you remember in high school science learning about catalysts? When you introduce a catalyst to other relatively inert substances it can create a chemical reaction, one that transforms the original materials. The catalyst itself however is not consumed by the process.

In the same way the catalyst leader releases the motivational energy of others, accelerates change and innovation, and transforms the environment and systems around them. They are also sustainably high performing as they are not themselves consumed or burned out in the process, instead getting more done by releasing the full potential of the people they seek to lead.

The Less Ordinary Pattern

The less ordinary pattern

Warmth combined with strength facilitates catalyst leadership, this more extraordinary version of leadership, one that reconciles many of the seemingly unavoidable trade-offs and paradoxes that characterise average leadership. For example:

  • It is purposeful and focused whilst still allowing time for connection and conversation.

  • It challenges others whilst involving them in co-creating innovations.

  • It holds its views lightly whilst advocating them persuasively.

  • It will ask others to do difficult things whilst remaining empathetic to their feelings and experiences.

  • It is compassionate whilst being disciplined.

  • It gives and receives feedback openly and willingly

  • It recognises effort and achievement whilst asking for more.

  • It guides and supports whilst stretching and challenging others to achieve their full potential and contribution.

These are just some of the extraordinary patterns that Catalyst Leadership produces, which in turn have such a remarkable impact on relationships and results.

Free whitepaper

If you would like to learn more about Catalyst Leadership, download my compelling whitepaper.


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