What kind of leader are you? Are your skills sufficient for success in the highly complex, high pressure world of global competition? Do you have what it takes to lead and influence in order to achieve world-class results?

Five years ago I wrote about how coaching skills evolve leaders to higher levels of effectiveness. Now there is even more evidence for the benefits of leaders learning and using the key skills of coaching. Bill Joiner’s book, Leadership Agility lays out a more comprehensive and precise view of the paradigm shifts leaders must make in order to be truly effective in the modern chaotic world of global competition and multinational organizations. And the message remains that certain coaching skills are absolutely essential for the kind of leadership needed in modern multinationals.

The world of work is much more complex and dynamic than it was in our parent’s time, or even 10 years ago. Most of my coaching clients are constantly facing challenges that have never been faced before. The systems they use for communicating, managing and innovating are continually changing to try to keep pace with the rapid and unending changes in technology and globalization. The people they work with have diverse backgrounds, languages and cultures and they span three or more generations. The organizational systems are complex requiring managers to influence people across and even against the hierarchy, and to report to multiple lines of control. Clearly, the leadership styles and capabilities from a decade ago cannot cope with this new world of work.

Drawing on 30 years of research and experience, Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs have identified the ‘Catalyst Level’ of leadership as the lowest level that can lead effectively in this highly dynamic and chaotic new world of work. They estimate that only 5-10% of today’s managers have mastered this, or one of the two even higher levels of leadership agility.

What makes their research fascinating, is the precision to which they articulate the key differences between the different levels. This makes it possible to accurately assess our own levels and those of others. Plus, it allows us to see clearly the types of practices and changes needed for progression to the next level.

They distinguish between the agility levels using two hallmarks: awareness and intent.  At each level of development, a leader’s capacity for awareness is greater and his/her intentions are broader. Using these two hallmarks, we can see clearly the leap (or leaps!) that managers must make in their core capacities.


To reach the Catalyst Level of leadership agility, leaders need the capability to be aware, even briefly, of their feelings, assumptions and behaviours as they happen in the moment. At the previous leadership agility level, Achiever, leaders are adept at reflecting, but only after the fact. Moment to moment self-reflection allows Catalyst Level leaders to fine-tune their behaviours in much more complex ways. They can catch themselves in the act of making  a mistake. They have much more leverage to change their unconscious patterns, since they can make the changes in real time, rather than only being able to play out their own conditioning and later regret what they did. This advanced reflective capacity allows Catalysts to become much more flexible in their leadership styles. For those who are overly warm and accommodating, they can develop more assertiveness. For leaders who are bluntly assertive or dominating, they can see the advantages of a softer style and make the necessary changes.


At the Achiever Level, leaders aim to achieve outcomes that are in alignment with their own values. Therefore, they motivate their team members or supporters by enlisting them to their own causes or goals. In diverse teams, this strategy has limited effectiveness. The leader is not always able to secure the buy-in of others, and in doing so may restrict the team’s value by reducing the diversity of opinions. When the Achiever leader selects the goal, it may not be the best goal for the good of the whole team.

In contrast, the Catalyst leader can enlist not only the labour but also the passion of a team. The Catalyst aims to align with the motivations of others such that everyone has real input into the goals and therefore they are more deeply committed. In addition, the goal is likely to be more appropriate and powerful since it is selected by a group of people rather than just by one. Catalysts focus on facilitating processes and creating contexts that are satisfying and meaningful, such that everyone wants to contribute. All members of a team have more consequential input into goals and strategies. The Catalyst leader can get much higher quality output from a diverse team, particularly when looking for creative solutions in unknown territory.

Developing Awareness and Intent

Since this research shows that only 5-10% of leaders have achieved the Catalyst Level or higher, there’s a lot of leadership development work to be done. There are three types of interventions that have a direct impact on developing Catalysts: mindfulness training, diversity challenges combined with developmental coaching and coaching skills training.

First of all, to achieve the Catalyst’s level of awareness, managers must engage in attentional practice that develops their ability to be self-aware while they are in action. Mindfulness training is the solution, not only the practices of quiet self-observation, but also active mindfulness practices including body awareness, focused presence and detachment. For example, The Potential Project has developed a full suite of programs for developing mindfulness in global corporate or organizational settings and available in many cities, including Hong Kong.

To develop the Catalyst’s level of intent, leaders need to be exposed to a diversity of people and cultures so that they can gain perspective on their own thinking, values, limitations and motivations. This can be done through a variety of cross cultural experiences including cross-functional, cross-sector and international work experiences. The biggest benefits will accrue when challenging experiences of diversity are supported by developmental coaching to help leaders realize their own deeper motivations and to recognize, accept and leverage the motivations and tendencies of others. This leap from Achiever to Catalyst is a very personal one requiring deep introspection, and an opening in perspective regarding one’s place and purpose in the world. Development coaching is the ideal catalyst to ensure this shift takes place.

While mindset development is essential, new skills will also be required for managers to fully embody the Catalyst Level.  Catalysts must learn how to draw out and understand a wide range of personal motivations and styles. Coaching skills fit very well here, particularly  listening, questioning, trusting building, appreciating and re-framing skills. Catalysts also need facilitation skills to help them create constructive contexts and processes that can include and leverage a wide variety of views without getting stuck in the process.

The Challenge

Do you think and feel that there is a lack of effective leadership in the world? I do.  It seems like most organizations are over their heads attempting to handle complex problems that have never been faced before. And the increasing pace and difficulty of the challenges is relentless. The fallout of ineffective leadership is evident in stressed employees and neglected family lives.  I also hold the leadership gap responsible for the bigger problems we face, like global financial turmoil, environmental degradation and social injustice.

How do you measure up to the challenge of global leadership? Are you providing (for yourself or others) the necessary tools for leadership development in this age? The world needs us to grow up to higher levels of leadership.

Angela Spaxman
Angela Spaxman
Career and Leadership Coach , Loving Your Work
Angela Spaxman is one of Hong Kong’s leading experts in professional coaching. She is a highly effective and experienced executive coach, career coach, corporate facilitator and trainer. Angela’s leadership experiences, her decades of personal development, her well-grounded confidence and her natural curiosity give her great insight into how to manage, motivate and lead people to be at their best.