How your team can start punching above its weight

You might have a focused strategy, a great product and relentless execution, but if you fail to harness the power of one key leadership perspective in your team, your impact will remain moderate.

In this article we’ll cover the key to skyrocket your team’s influence and achieve your goals faster than ever.

But first, a quick story.

How we rocketed to CEO-level visibility and impact

At Cisco I was in a very strong leadership team, in an incredibly strong ‘elite’ business unit. However, our team’s impact soared and eclipsed many other parts of the business unit for one key reason: our team’s leader, my manager.

Not necessarily the greatest at delivering detailed work, he was a master…. I mean MASTER… of networking and communication. He was promoted through the ranks at astonishing speed, leveraged his vast internal network to catapult the visibility and impact of the team, and ended up becoming personal friends with Chairman John Chambers and CEO Chuck Robbins.

This relational strength allowed our team to have an impact far and beyond most other groups in the company, becoming the go-to resource for some of Cisco’s highest-visibility marketing campaigns and work with customers.

Our manager was a multiplying factor… a true catalyst for our team’s impact.

Ignore the Catalyst at your peril.


The strategic relationships made visible by the Catalyst perspective

Through our coaching and consulting work with leaders and teams, we’ve observed that we all see the world through five “lenses”. These are filters that govern how we see the world, and how we lead as a result. We tend to use one primary lens (our default way of seeing the world), but can deploy all of the lenses to a greater or lesser degree depending on the situation.

Working with teams at all levels, we’ve seen that the Catalyst - the strategic networker and master of relationships - can open up doors for teams that lead to incredible progress. However, the Catalyst perspective can often be overlooked as it’s less predictable and manageable than the more process-driven .

Here’s a quick pen-sketch of the Catalyst. Take a minute to see whether this is your primary lens, a lens that you value and can use when necessary, or a lens that is rather uncomfortable for you and used only occasionally.

Leadership Lens:

The Catalyst

The Catalyst lens is the perspective of NETWORKING, PARTNERSHIP and COMMUNICATION. The Catalyst lens encourages us to ask:

  • ​​Who can we get on board?
  • How can we communicate?

Sweet Spots: Enthusiastic Resourcefulness

  • The Catalyst lens is concerned about making the strategic connections needed to move towards a compelling future vision. It’s the lens of partnerships, of communication, of passionate “selling” of ideas that you truly believe in. It’s a lens concerned with rallying people to the cause.
  • People with the Catalyst lens tend to have a bulging address book and a wide circle of friends and acquaintances that they can reach out to. Persuasive & inspirational, they are resourceful networkers who can source whatever the team needs.
  • Catalysts are masters of translation, finding the right words to convince the person in front of them of the ideas they are promoting. Enthusiasm and passion are their hallmarks. They need to believe in an idea to really put their energy behind it, but when they do they are natural evangelists of whatever ‘good news’ they are excited about.
  • Catalysts are people-people, but in a rather different way from the Mediators. Catalysts link people with ideas; they are on a mission and will - at some point - leave others behind if they are not on board. Mediators are less concerned with a future vision and more concerned with looking after people in the present.

Blind Spots: People-pleasing

  • Catalysts live in the worlds of people and ideas, and often feel the need to try to please all the people all the time. This people-pleasing tendency can result in the Catalyst bringing ineffective challenge - just hinting at a problem rather than clearly and calmly stating the issue.
  • They can occasionally get themselves into trouble by “selling” slightly different versions of the same thing to different people, only to be caught out where these people compare notes and realise they’ve not been told the same story!
  • Personal organisation can sometimes be the Catalyst’s Achilles’ Heel. They have a tendency to overpromise and sometimes underdeliver… and then proceed to charm their way out of whatever sticky situation they’ve created!


At the intersection of people and future vision, the Catalyst lens is the primary perspective of slightly over 10% of the population. The enthusiasm, passion and communication skills of the Catalyst means that their viewpoint is usually clearly heard.

  • ACTIVATE THEM BY: Appreciating their enthusiasm and resourcefulness; giving them credit for the power of their relational network and ability to make the connections that move things forward.
  • BEWARE OF: Strong negative reactions to critique; they can easily take things personally and can feel that challenging their idea is tantamount to discrediting their integrity or competency.

Be careful not to rob your team of influence

Often catalysts can be mis-deployed in a team. In a world of tasks and projects, the relational strength of the catalyst can be ignored and under appreciated.

I’ve seen several occasions where a catalyst feels judged for a lack of Operator-style operational rigour and task-discipline. This shuts the catalyst down; they become defensive and either react negatively or start over-selling their position (denying there’s a problem).

In this scenario, the catalyst’s signature ease with people and charm are suppressed, and the catalyst finds themselves unable to bring their best to the team.

On the flip side of course, many a Catalyst boss can frustrate their team with their relentless enthusiasm…. about a different opportunity each week! Catalysts can generate a bunch of opportunities, but need to allow the team to filter and prioritise those to provide some operational stability.

Activate a Catalyst

Who’s the person in the team with great people skills and an address book as thick as a double cheeseburger? Who’s the incurable networker in your midst? Chances are, you’ve found a Catalyst.

Remember, Catalysts have an incredible gift to set up strategic partnerships inside or outside the organisation that will help the team punch well above its weight and get more accomplished, faster. However, Catalysts aren’t often the greatest project managers out there and their strengths can often be underused by task-focused managers and teams.

A simple way to get the best from a Catalyst is to harness their relational resourcefulness. Rather than trying to get them to double-down on task delivery, ask them how they can ‘sell’ the team’s vision to internal or external partners, or ask them to find someone who can provide a key resource or a piece of support. You will be amazed at who they know and what they can find!

ACTION POINT: What’s the specific action you can take to activate a Catalyst in your world today?

PLUS, whenever you're ready, why not hit the accelerator on your journey of exponential impact by working with us, or by picking up a copy of Making TIME For Strategy?

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