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  • Writer's pictureKim Hafjall


Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Meet Peter, your Catalyst/Individualist Leader in Action

Five years have gone since we last saw Peter. A year ago, he was promoted to finance director when Claire left the organisation to take a more significant role in another company.

The group was experiencing unprecedented challenges. The market was changing rapidly, and they were behind the curve. The CEO appointed Peter to lead in creating a new strategy and vision. One thing Peter had learned from Claire was to be inclusive. After she had pointed it out, again and again, Peter fully appreciated the benefit of this. That it supports the commitment and engagement among the group and improves the outcome when many brains together create a solution, and they need a good solution that caters for all functions. Peter was aware that finance would be among the least impacted parts. Especially marketing would have to give sacrifice in the turn-around.

Peter gathered a relatively sizeable cross-functional team. It counted almost 30 people from all functions in the organisation and represented different leadership levels. He kicked off the seminar by explaining the problem and what outcome was needed. His passion for the company and the importance for him that they together steered the company through the difficult times were transmitted to all parties in the room. Peter told them that the executive team had invited and approved each of them, as they represented something unique for the group. This made the group feel excited and honoured to be empowered to form part of the crucial solution team. He then described how they would embark on a scenario process over the following months, where four different groups would explore different strategies (scenarios) that would support a new vision. They would then present and challenge each other together with the executive team. Gradually it would be narrowed down to one scenario they could all commit to as a united team that would become their new strategy.

Before letting them into the different groups, Peter started the process by acknowledging the significant challenges that, especially marketing, would inevitably have to go through. How he valued their commitment to the process and asked everyone to bear this in mind throughout the process. By doing that, Peter explicitly demonstrated to all that he understood the sacrifices some functions would have to make and how painful that would be.

Throughout the process, he mostly took a facilitating role. Not that he would not have his views and opinions, but he knew that by inviting everyone to share their thoughts and ideas, the outcome would be better and more robust. At times, he would overrule a direction or opinion, but that was OK because they all knew that he also changed his mind at times.

After some months, the new vision was created based on a revised strategy and business model. The implementation now went faster and better than he could have dreamt of. As all functions had participated in the creation, there was alignment and a visible commitment around the solution. It helped that representatives from all parts of the organisation could play a significant role in communicating across the organisation – not only top-down but also catering for more intimate setups, where employees could ask blunt questions and raise concerns and ideas that would lead to minor corrections. It only improved the overall implementation, as they had not foreseen everything, and this openness to input helped course correct and avoided serious setbacks or failures.

Leadership Agility Compass

The Leadership Agility Compass, as defined by Joseph and Joiners, 2007, operates with four areas of competencies or focus areas for the agile leader. These are:

  1. Context-Setting Agility: The larger systemic context surrounding your initiative.

  2. Stakeholder Agility: Your initiative’s key stakeholders.

  3. Creative Agility: The specific problems and opportunities your initiative must address for it to be successful.

  4. Self-leadership Agility: Yourself as a leader.

Below is a more in-depth description of a Catalyst/Individualist leader's capacities and limitations, seen through the lens of the four angles. Each leadership stage builds on the previous vertical development stages. Below, therefore, makes the best sense if you have read the blog post about the Expert and Achiever stages.

Catalyst/Individualist Evaluated Through the Leadership Agility Compass.

Context Setting Agility

- Situational awareness: Catalyst/Individualist both hold a zoom and wide-angle lens. This enables a more profound focus on the environment and sustainability, reaching further than the organisation itself. They know that organisational culture influences and drive dynamics and how working with this can improve results.

- Sense of purpose: Can create visions from the short to the long horizon (up to decades ahead to realise) that challenge commonly held assumptions, often fueled by their desire to find significant meaning in things. Seek to create spaces where people thrive more.

Stakeholder Agility

- Stakeholder Understanding: Begin to see the image of self as just an image. It is not the truth. It is not you. That makes them more self-accepting regarding their weaker points. "We are just humans". It also impacts how they see others. Realising how biased beliefs and values are from childhood, upbringing, socioeconomic class, and culture makes them realise that all views are subjective. They become curious to understand perspectives different from theirs. Empathy deepens; they can now envisage how it must be to "be" someone else (experience their feelings and thoughts).

- Power style: Master the power of vision and the power of participation. Visions now tend to be more far-reaching, inspiring with personal meaning, and can also communicate it - inspiring and motivating others. Catalyst/Individualist creates environments where people can take the initiative and be creative. Their genuine interest in others' input makes them naturally seek to include all types of stakeholders in their work – empower them hence they can contribute with different talents and ideas.

Creative Agility

- Connective Awareness: The connection between intent and results deepens. Behaviours are not always intended, and actions can have negative consequences for self and others – unintended. They can now apply different frames to understand others. That means they can feel and sense how others may feel and think and then return to their "own" frame more knowledgeable about the other's perspective and viewpoints. It also enables them to import ideas from different frames. They can only try on one frame at a time.

- Reflective Judgement: Catalyst/Individualist still believes that good data and rational thought are essential and valuable but now also sees that underlying frames of reference are much more powerful and pervasive than formerly imagined. Different people will define a problem differently, and the solution criteria will differ (as the solution to your problem may not cater for my problem). At the Catalyst/Individualist level, it becomes possible to reflect "live" -but only momentarily. So, where the Achiever in the evening would think, "why did it go this way?" the Catalyst/Individualist can sometimes think ", why is it going this way?" while it is happening, or momentarily after, and thereby course correct in the situation. This level of awareness allows them to recognise and reflect on new assumptions, feelings, and priorities. They understand that "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are".

Self-leadership Agility

- Self-awareness: Catalyst/Individualist sees that self-image is based on accurate self-observation but also a combination of wishful thinking and overly negative self-evaluation. They discover that their self-image, to some extent, prevents internal feelings and external feedback from fully materialising. Their desire to increase self-knowledge helps them detect and let go of defence mechanisms, and they discover more about their "shadow sides", those parts – both positive and negative – that lie beneath the rational person of their achiever-self. Some may realise that they still hugely seek approval from others, and a feeling of inadequacy that stems from a largely unconscious self-judgement drive this. These feelings can be managed by developing a more affirming attitude toward oneself.

- Developmental Motivation: Catalysts/Individualists are still motivated by delivering outcomes (which can include a very ambitious vision). But they also begin to focus on something more profound. They want the vision and outcomes to have personal meaning and their life between achievements to be meaningful and fulfilling. It is about personal growth – not a goal – but an ongoing, open-ended developmental process.

Reflection Points

  • Which of the strong capacities at the Catalyst/Individualist stage can you recognise in yourself?

  • Which limitations at the Catalyst/Individualist stage can you recognise in yourself?

  • Can you think of someone operating solidly at the Catalyst/Individualist stage?

  • Are you operating at the Catalyst/Individualist stage?

Next Week's Blog Post

Peter continues his vertical development, and in the next blog post, he now operates solidly at the Co-creator/Strategist stage. This becomes very visible in how Peter now seeks a deeper purpose in everything he does and how his leadership expands to include deep collaboration and meaningfulness as ways to lead and motivate people around him. Remember to sign-up; hence you get a notification when the blog is released.


* Joiner, B & Josephs, S. 2007. Leadership Agility – Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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