Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Creating Catalysts

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Creating Catalysts

Would you like to see your leaders creating breakthrough shifts in how the work is done? Would you like to see them consistently and naturally drawing together teams from all parts of the business to develop new and creative solutions? Would you like to see your leaders developing new ways for people to work together? Would you like to see your leaders routinely evaluating their own assumptions and working to understand the work through differing perspectives?
Leaders who operate in these modes are Catalysts … catalysts for change. Whether driving LEAN manufacturing through an organization, moving into new markets, or integrating acquisitions, Catalysts have grown beyond the Achievers in their ability to bring people together to move a vision into reality.


In the preceding postings, we have been exploring a competency model for leadership outlined by Joiner and Josephs in their recent book “Leadership Agility”. This newsletter will look at the implementation of Lean manufacturing system to point out the differences in how Achievers and Catalysts might approach the same work. We’ll end by identifying development opportunities that can be used to support competency development to the Catalyst level.

Consider the premise that there is always a way “to create more value with less work.” That is the basis of the process management philosophy exemplified by the Toyota Production System and now described simply as Lean (reference http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing). Let’s see if we can contrast how Lloyd, an Achiever, and Susan, a Catalyst might proceed in leading a Lean implementation.

Lloyd is energized by the opportunity to lead the Lean transformation team for his organization. He believes strongly its philosophies and practices. He’s got a proven track record of being able to diagnose and resolve problems with innovative solutions. He knows that the key to his success will be in persuading others that Lean is a key to the future of his organization.

Susan is fascinated by the successes some companies have achieved with Lean. She’s also been exploring what sets apart the best from those that aren’t succeeding. She knows that the tools and structures are important, but has recognized that the key to success is in establishing a clear vision and then getting people from all levels of the organization involved. Susan has seen that if she can create a new way of working together, people will feel excited, empowered and energized. But she also knows that there will be a lot of different opinions on the value of lean and how to implement it. She is looking forward to getting the conflicts out on the table so that the best solutions arise.

Three months into the project Lloyd is noticing that the Purchasing group is routinely not following through on their team commitment. He knows that his conversation with the Purchasing Director will be pivotal. Before the meeting, Lloyd meets with his coach to prepare for this conversation. Lloyd’s coach helps him get clear on the outcomes he is seeking and the relationship he wants to have with the Purchasing Director. In the meeting, he is able to gain a better perspective on the challenges in Purchasing, while reminding the Purchasing Director of the management attention this project is getting. He leaves with agreement to Purchasing will live up to their commitments.

While initially engaged in the work, Susan is noticing that the production planning group is resisting some of the initiatives. In reflecting on an earlier conversation with the Production Planning Manager, she realizes that neither of them really opened up about their differing priorities and there was no real commitment; in fact, the conversation created more distrust. Susan knows that she needs to lead the Lean implementation – it’s not negotiable – but that she needs to be looking for collaboration in the solution. Susan has learned that in the upcoming conversation that she’ll need to be explicit with her key priorities and assumptions throughout the conversation, and that she’ll need to be asking the questions to learn about the priorities and assumptions in Production Planning. With awareness of her own intent and behavior throughout the conversation, Susan was able to find opportunities for joint problem solving.

Lloyd is pleased to get some feedback from his management and HR that he’s really grown into his role as a manager. His team meetings are well attended and include a comfortable balance of information sharing and problem-solving. He’s finding that he can back away from troubleshooting specific problems and spend most of his time motivating his team members, providing support, breaking down barriers, and keeping everyone moving together.

Susan believes that the best solutions come from exploring a variety of perspectives, but is concerned that her participative approach will be seen as too “soft”. With the encouragement of her coach, she has begun to experiment with her team meetings in order to find a balanced power style. She works at encouraging discussion that examines issues from different perspectives. Her team is learning that sometimes she is looking to strengthen her idea, sometimes she is looking for new ideas, sometimes she negotiate a compromise within the team to keep things moving forward, and sometimes she lets her team have their way. She is realizing that valuing input is not the same as giving up her authority to decide the direction. She also finding ways to delegate leadership to people within her team and seeing this is accelerating their development.

Reflect on the stories of Lloyd and Susan. Who would you rather have working for you? Who would you rather have as a boss? Which organization will achieve the greatest transformation?

The Catalyst level is a natural extension of the Achiever. The Achiever can be counted on to deliver results with a focus on solving the current problems and involving others through persuasion. The Catalyst is at a stage in his career when he sees the personal and organizational value in stepping out of the old ways of doing business, in building a participative team, and in finding creative ways to develop his direct reports.


To develop an Achiever to the Catalyst level, coaching will focus on the following areas:

  1. Deepening awareness of beliefs, values, and assumptions about yourself and others
  2. Discovering the interest in and value for helping others succeed
  3. Finding out what’s important to other people and connecting with it to make a difference for them
  4. Shifting from motivating and directing others to coaching and training
  5. Involving others in collaborative problem solving
  6. Increasing self-awareness in the moment, and learning how to adjust feelings and behaviors throughout interpersonal interactions
  7. Seeking and incorporating feedback into personal development

For more information on how Sherry L. Read, Principal and Executive Coach, Read Solutions Group works with developing and senior leaders to raise their competencies, contact Sherry at Sherry@ReadSolutionsGroup.com.

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