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Catalyst Leadership: A Winning Proposition

By Dave Mayer

Dave Mayer

It’s been half a century since England’s football team won the World Cup—and I fear its losing streak will continue.

Last year, when Gareth Southgate signed on as manager of our national team, I was cautiously optimistic. Although Southgate had managed two teams after retiring as a player, this new role is a considerable step up. And, at 46, he is one of the youngest managers we’ve ever had. Noting all this, I remained hopeful; things couldn’t get much worse (the team had just suffered a humiliating loss to Iceland in the European championships). Little did I know…

A Winning PropositionArticulating his “leadership” philosophy at his first press conference, Southgate stated that he wanted to be a friend first, a leader second, and an entertainer third. What? My experience tells me just the opposite: To be successful as a leader, especially during the early stages of a transition, your number-one priority should be leader first, friend second.

And not just any kind of leader. You must be a catalyst leader—someone who ignites action in others and builds engagement. Someone who brings out the best in others, and holds his or herself accountable. As illustrated in the graphic below, in their book Your First Leadership Job, DDI's Tacy Byham and Rich Wellins identify the attributes that define a catalyst leader.

The Catalyst Leader

In addition, there are three leadership differentiators that, if embraced early, will ensure success:

Be authentic—Your actions mirror what you believe and feel, with no contradiction between what you say and what you do. You should interact with your team confidently, honestly, and openly, and show integrity through consistent and honest conversations to build trust.

Some examples of authenticity include:

  • Do what’s right, even in difficult situations (like dropping the captain).
  • Admit mistakes.
  • Display confidence but avoid arrogance.
  • Treat people with respect.

Bring out the best in people—Great leaders know that their own success relies on the success of their team. It takes a winning mentality to help others be the best they can be and now, more than ever, the England football team needs this! To bring out the best in people, great leaders must:

  • Unite others towards a common goal.
  • Encourage teammates/members to experiment.
  • Compliment people on their efforts.
  • Understand people’s motivations and align to this.

Be receptive to feedback—One variable shown to predict leadership success is an individual’s receptivity to feedback. Southgate won’t need to worry about receiving feedback—he’ll get plenty. Rather, he needs to focus on what he’ll do with it. Ideally, Southgate will be willing to adopt the same “fail forward” concept espoused by Mary Lee Tracy, who has coached several U.S. Olympic gymnasts:

“Failing forward is when you continue to try new approaches and new solutions to solve an existing problem. You still may not achieve your desired results, but you’re still moving forward, learning, and making progress. Failure, on the other hand, is when you don’t get the desired results because you quit trying or you continue to do the same thing over and over again.”

Regarding Southgate’s leadership philosophy, he must reorder his priorities. Transitioning from friend to leader is one of the most challenging things anyone can dobut for me, it was also one of the most rewarding.

I offer these three tips gleaned from my own experience:

  1. Integrity is the key to the trust door: Without trust, you cannot lead.
  2. Find out what floats people’s boat (motivation) and use it.
  3. Set goals (no pun intended) that are realistic and achievable.

I sincerely hope that I’m wrong in my suspicions, and that England will go onto great success under the leadership of Gareth Southgate. However, something tells me there is still a long way to go before the next World Cup victory. For now, as the song goes, I’m "England Till I Die."

David Mayer is based in DDI’s London office and works as a leadership consultant helping clients to select, retain, and develop their leaders to meet today’s and tomorrow’s ever changing business priorities. When he’s not working, Dave is currently learning to play the piano, or is either out running or cycling or trying to motivate himself to do one of the above. If anyone has the secret ingredient to sustained exercise motivation, Dave would love to hear it.

Have you recently made the transition to becoming a new leader or are considering an offer to do so? Click here to learn more about catalyst leadership.

Posted: 11 Apr, 2017,
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