Catalyst Leaders: 5 Telltale Signs | Part 1/2

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by Gumball Associate, Tracey Lovejoy






Tracey Lovejoy is an Associate Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, an accredited facilitator of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, and a Certified Everything DiSC Trainer and Partner. She has worked with clients in a variety of large organizations such as Amazon, Steelcase, Microsoft, Intel, and Vodafone, as well as supporting executives in small businesses and CEOs of startups. The core values she brings to her engagements are awareness, courageous action, and empathy.

In 2020, she published the book MOVE FAST. BREAK SHIT. BURN OUT. - a personal operations manual that helps Catalysts move fast without losing people, break shit with intentionality and lessen the intensity of the burnout cycle that most Catalysts experience. This post shares the five attributes that are common to a Catalyst - the signs that you are dealing with a Catalyst, or that you yourself are a Catalyst. 

In this part, she shares the first three attributes, you can read the 2nd one here (publishes on June 5th).


Catalyst Leaders: 5 Telltale Signs


“As a Catalyst I come into a situation, seeing what is there, bringing some of my own thoughts in, but holding back and seeing lots of different elements and allowing my mind to be big enough to swirl in it to come to some ideas and directions. Being a Catalyst is helping to then make something different or to change direction. Then bringing people along on that idea and getting them to move forward on that idea.” 

- Catalyst

We’ve all experienced Catalysts – there is an energy that seems to swirl around them, they constantly have new ideas and can inspire us to think the impossible is possible. Catalysts can be like a thorn in our side, always pushing to make things even better. And they can scare the shit out of us because, once again, they are suggesting that we change things – things we thought were fine.

And yet we recognize that much of what is great around us exists because a Catalyst dared to dream it, dared us to dream it with them, and, even more, dared to take the risks to make it come to life. People like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey – dared to dream and changed the world.

In late 2015 I began doing research with people that self-identify as Catalysts (or activators, or game-changers, or change agents, or paradigm breakers…). And in 2020 I published my book.

There are five attributes that, when combined, are the telltale signs of a Catalyst.


1. Quickly Processing and Piecing Together Lots of Information, Systemically and Contextually.

First and foremost Catalysts describe a process – more of a way of being – of quickly taking in new information then considering, organizing and synthesizing. In interviews this was described as “seeing things out there and putting them together, connecting and orchestrating.” And it happens faster than for others: “I can be 20 steps ahead and it can be hard for others to catch up.”

Many talked about this intuitive process as putting pieces together like building a puzzle. But not consciously. Just something that happens naturally for them. So they often assume those around them were coming to the same conclusions and were confused when others didn’t see the same things.

“It is something more than just being an observer. Catalysts are active or strategic observers. Or it has an architect concept - putting all the pieces together. Not just a vision, but more like clairvoyance, illuminacity, a type of x-ray vision. You are thinking ‘How can you not see this? It is so obvious.’”

And Catalysts view the information within the context of the group, company, or culture within which it is situated. “You have to understand a system to act within the system.”


2. Multitudes of Ideas and Constantly Seeing Possibilities

Another telltale sign of a Catalyst is that they have a lot of ideas and see possibilities on how to solve problems and make things better. There are many people that consume lots of information, but many don’t come up with ideas and possibilities inspired by the information they consume. Catalysts can’t stop themselves.

“Catalysts see their surroundings and the people around them and see possibilities - the possibilities to change things.”

“A Catalyst sees opportunity and possibility and stepping into THAT rather than circling around or going backwards. It is forward momentum.”

And the ideas never stop. It is a way of being in the world. Of interacting with the world. “I am always working through to the next thing.” “There is always more to do.” “The ideas never end."


3. Create Visions

The process doesn’t stop at processing and seeing possibilities - the ideas form into an imagined, better future. They develop a vision - often effortlessly. 

“As a Catalyst, there is vision and execution. You are catalyzing something for a reason. You have to have a vision for what you want to achieve. It implies an end result. That person has to be able to get somewhere. I am a results-oriented person. I lay out a vision and I get there. That is implied.”

“There is a strong vision of what I want to do. Even though if I explain it to someone they don’t always see it… sometimes hard to convey because they are seeing in 2 dimensions and I see in 3. You can only understand the matrix after you’ve been in the matrix. There is no way to explain things sometimes to people.”

The vision may come together quickly, or a vision may take longer to crystallize depending on the complexity of the problem or system in which it will be implemented. This period was talked about with different descriptive nouns: the storming, the soup, the fog, the ambiguity stew.

And at their best, Catalysts can share their visions to bring others along on the journey. However, most Catalysts can struggle to clearly articulate their visions. This is a key area we focus on when working with Catalysts.

Curious to find out the remaining signs and how you can find out if you are a catalyst. Read the 2nd part here

MOVE FAST. BREAK SHIT. BURN OUT. One of Entrepreneur Magazine's "9 Must-Read Books to Prepare Entrepreneurs for 2021"