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Catalyst, Resources
These are not easy days for leaders of any type.

The sudden and drastic changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in the last few weeks have required us to make important decisions amidst great uncertainty; and in many cases have to revise those decisions repeatedly as new information and insights emerge. We have had to lead our organizations with as much calm and confidence as we can muster even while processing our professional and personal fears. Most leaders I know have risen to the occasion beautifully.

As demanding as it has been so far; I expect leadership to become more difficult in the weeks and months to come.

Most leaders respond well to crisis. We are motivated by the urgency and need for action. In many ways we like the pressure, and the rush involved in handling the unanticipated can actually be invigorating. Adrenaline is a powerful thing.

Our leadership teams, employees, and communities have also stepped up. Again, there is a remarkable ability to accept difficult circumstances when something of this magnitude is happening all around us. We can tolerate a lot for a while if we believe it is for good reason.

But that initial period of easy adaptability will come to an end and the adrenaline will fade. That is when leadership will require greater nuance and strength. As one deeply insightful article describes, we are facing an ice age, not a blizzard.

There are many great resources to help us understand how to lead through this crisis as it extends. Many come from people more experienced, studied, or insightful than me. I’d welcome you linking to the ones you find most helpful in the comments at the end of this post.

What I think I can offer are a couple particular reminders; things we probably already know but may not be acting on.

1. Your organizational Culture is far more valuable than your Strategy right now. 

The plans and priorities you had even six weeks ago have probably been completely abandoned. What remains as you try to change on the fly is the quality and strength of relationships you have built over time. Healthy cultures will find ways to shift resources and approaches with strong engagement from staff and stakeholders. Unhealthy ones will not. 

This is not the time to take Culture for granted. Continue to invest actively in people. Find ways to have both formal and informal interaction. Continue to train and treat (or school and spoil) your team even under pressure. It will pay off.

We have a quick, insightful, and highly actionable tool to help you understand, evaluate, and improve your organizational culture.

2. Your personal Character outweighs your skills and experience.

None of us have done this before. Even the most adept at remote working have never done it under these circumstances. The playbook for this situation is being written day by day, even hour by hour; you can’t find it in a library or bookshop. That means we all need to discern which of the multitude of “expert” voices we will listen to and which insights we will try to apply.

Ultimately it will be leaders who are adaptable, relational, and trusted that will find ways forward. Those who are driven by selfish motives or insecurity will find it extremely hard to maintain engagement. Make a point of checking in on your own identity and actions regularly and find some safe people to help you stay (or get) on track. People follow those they trust when all else is uncertain.

If you want a practical tool to do a personal character check up for yourself or your team please let me know.

3. Prioritize Celebration.

A quick glance through my social media feeds show that people are rapidly tiring of the latest projections and predictions. As much as we need to keep up with critical information, we are longing for good news. This is only multiplied, exponentially, by the enforced isolation of this particular crisis. Celebration is a strong counterpoint to fatigue.

Expect that your team, donors, clientele, and community need more celebration than you do. Find and flag as many examples as you can of the ways the things you are doing are helping, even if that only means reducing the degree of harm people experience. Make a point of drawing attention to what is hopeful. 

Whether you are a religious person or not there is a universal wisdom in the Bible’s advice:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
(Philippians 4:8 NIV)
Your efforts to give people reason and opportunity to celebrate in this time of turmoil may be the most important thing you do.

If I can help you work through any of these things as you lead please contact me.

It would be my pleasure to help you as you lead. You may also find some useful insights into Celebration and organizational Culture in The REACTION Dashboard.

Catalyst, Leadership, Resources

Are you looking forward to getting your organization moving again after the year end festivities?

Most charities work hard right up to the final day of the calendar year to maximize fundraising as donors give for an annual tax receipt. 

For many, the first weeks of a new year are a relatively less urgent time when there may be greater potential for investing in strategic priorities beyond the daily whirlwind of tasks and deadlines. It can be a time to refocus and reinvest as well as to recover.

This may be the best opportunity all year to take a closer look at your organizational culture and see what is worthy of celebrating and what needs to change for you to achieve your ambitions for 2020. Of course you should be considering and working on culture all the time; but it rarely reaches the top of the priority list when things are busy. It’s very important but by the time it becomes urgent it may be extremely difficult to fix it without serious damage.

So here are 7 Simple Questions you can ask alone, or with your team, to check in on the health of your organizational culture:

1. Do we all understand the Reason for our work well enough to state it briefly in our own words?

2. How are we being intentional about managing the seasonal ebbs and flows of Energy and developing the habits that fill us?

3. What are 3 things we are doing currently that are not in strong Alignment with our priorities and how are we fixing or eliminating those things?

4. Where is there a communication gap that is muddying the Clarity we need to have our greatest impact and who is responsible for closing that gap?

5. What Trust damaging behaviours have we tolerated for too long for fear of losing a high performer or just because we are uncomfortable with conflict?

6. Which potential or imminent Warning Lights are indicating dangers to the health of our organization?

7. What specific things are we doing this month to Celebrate our steps toward success that we want everyone involved in our organization to understand and/or replicate?

Taking even just 15 minutes to answer these questions, and then acting on the answers, could be exactly what you need to set your organization on course for a healthier and more effective year ahead.

For more practical insight into how leaders can understand, assess, and improve organizational culture check out or contact us for a free initial consultation.

Catalyst, Leadership
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

As always, some people make a really big deal out of it, spending small fortunes on flowers, chocolates, gifts, and dinner out. Proclaiming their love as publicly as possible as an expression of romance.

As always, others point out that Valentine’s is a fabricated holiday that really doesn’t reflect the true story of St. Valentine, and serves mostly to guilt people into unnecessary stereotypical purchases. They claim that they don’t need a nudge from a consumer driven date to demonstrate their feelings.

I can’t help but wonder if those who criticize the holiday really are regularly showing their partners how much they love them. 

The simple truth is that, as artificial as it may be, many of us benefit from the reminder.

The nudge works.

Like romance in an intimate relationship, organizations are better, richer, and stronger when they celebrate their successes. And like romance, celebration is easily and often overlooked.

This is true in many areas of our lives. We are intentional about building habits and rituals that regularly remind us of the things we believe are important. So we have an annual physical, schedule date nights, set reminders on our phones, and wear accessories that nudge us to pay attention and take action.

For me, that’s a big part of going to church.

Some leaders don’t fully appreciate the significant impact skilled celebration can bring for their organization. And few consistently make it a priority. It’s easier to invest ourselves in problem solving and strategy sessions than in leading a culture that brings out the best in people. 

But every organization is better when leaders leverage the power of celebration.

I was honoured last year when a leader I respect asked me to be his “celebration coach”. He wants me to remind him to celebrate the things that matter, and to help him to do it well. He needs the nudge.

So whether you like Valentine’s Day or not, it’s a good idea to find some way to remind yourself to show your love for the people you care about.

And if you want to lead your organization to be healthy, vibrant, and as impactful as possible, you need to find a way to ensure that you don’t take celebration for granted. You might even want to find yourself a coach.

Catalyst offers workshops in Celebration for leaders, teams, and organizations. Contact us for more information.

Catalyst, Leadership
Catalyst Foundation got started ten years ago; February 2, 2008 was the first official day.

It’s been an amazing ride and there has been an enormous amount of learning that continues today.

This week we are reflecting back on all that has happened and looking ahead to the next ten years and beyond. We hope there is much more to come than has been accomplished so far.

One of the themes that has emerged in our work with charity leaders is the power and importance of developing the skill of celebration. Time and time again we’ve seen that those who leverage celebration achieve more and have more fun doing it. But it doesn’t always come easily, even for us.

With that in mind, I’m asking for a little help.

If you have been impacted at all by Catalyst over the past decade would you take a couple minutes and respond to this brief survey to help us reflect, celebrate, and plan ahead.



Catalyst, Leadership, Partners, Uncategorized

Catalyst’s new Partners Leadership Program is the culmination of 9+ years of actively working with charities across Canada and internationally to grow their leadership for greater impact in their fields. It brings together the very best of what we have learned in funding, coaching, consulting, and walking alongside charity leaders.

We are now actively recruiting organizations to join us in this intensive project.

The Program Overview gives the relevant information about eligibility and what the program involves. It is worth checking it out and passing it along to others who might be interested. In talking with several interested leaders one of the important aspects of the possibility of applying is the question of whether this is the right time in their organization’s story to take on something like this. The timing is definitely not right for everybody.

It is may not be a good time to apply if:
-You are in the midst of significant financial, strategic, or human resources turmoil. Crisis management is not what we are offering in this program. A certain level of stability is necessary to dig deeply into organizational culture and leadership over time.
-You are currently taking on several other major initiatives. Our partnership will require sustained attention and effort. It will demand continued focus and can’t succeed if treated as a small side project.
-The current leadership does not have the confidence of the board of directors. We understand that transitions happen unexpectedly for a wide variety of reasons, but for us to invest this much in a leader we want to anticipate them continuing in their role for 3-5 years or more.
-Your Executive Director is new to their role within the last 3 months. Possibly longer if they are entirely new to the organization. It is rare for a new first chair leader to be able to establish their own credibility enough that quickly to bring on an internal commitment of this scale.
-You aren’t sure you can work closely with either Catalyst or other potential partners. Some people just don’t click together.

On the other hand; this may be the perfect time for you to partner with us if:
-You are experiencing or anticipating greater organizational impact
-You feel plateaued as a leader or organization and want to shake things up a bit
-You want to grow the size, scope, strategy, and/or impact of your charity
-You want to lead with greater confidence -Your leadership team is ready to get significantly more effective
-The upcoming opportunities or challenges are going to be a stretch for you
-You are eager to both learn from and share with peer charity leaders
-You need some challenge and encouragement to bring out your best
-You have a sense that there is more to grow into personally, as a team, or as an organization

If you have any interest or curiosity about the opportunity let me know.

Catalyst, Leadership, Resources

As part of the application to our new Catalyst Partners Leadership Program interested charities submit a 3-5 year Organizational Leadership Plan.

For some this is a document they have at the ready and can simply convert to pdf and add to their application. But for the majority a leadership plan is little more structured than a couple lines in a strategic plan or a few vague ideas.

In the past I tried to create a universal template that charities could use to create a leadership plan, but I soon abandoned the idea as unwise.

The diversity of news and opportunities facing charities would require either a template far too detailed to be reasonable to far too vague to be complete. On top of that, nothing I designed could reflect the culture and style of each organization. In the end it was better to offer a broad overview of different people within or connected to the charity with some questions relevant to each group and include some resources we have seen as valuable. Setting that in a worksheet that provides space for identifying specific needs and interventions, budget, and room to lay out the plan proved more useful than anything else I could develop.

It is far from comprehensive and always in need of updating as we learn more, but it serves well to initiate good conversation and raise possibilities that may not have been considered. It also includes some focus on donors and fundraising that is not strictly leadership development but seems relevant.

Leaders have used the overview to discuss what should happen and then transferred the results to a format and style that fits their unique operating culture. Check out the latest version for yourself and let me know how we can improve it to better serve charity leaders. 

Organizational Leadership Plan Worksheet

Catalyst, Leadership, Resources

Follow though is my nemesis.

My whole life I’ve been able to generate ideas that have excited me and engaged others. I’m a great starter. Of course, a great start does not make a great result. Actually delivering on the potential of my initiatives has haunted me for far too long.

I have a severely limited capacity for detail and my administration abilities are lacking. I can never stay motivated and engaged enough to bring most of what I dream to fruition. It bugs me. More than that it means I don’t accomplish what I really want to, and I end up disappointing or frustrating other people as well.

I’ve tried any number of popular productivity programs and time management hacks. I can start them with my usual enthusiasm, but they never last long. The ongoing maintenance of the system grinds me down far too quickly and I find myself again free styling from idea to idea and rushing deadline after deadline. I’m actually pretty good at that.

Last summer I saw Chris McChesney speak at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. His topic: the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) didn’t really inspire me. I was expecting to feel inadequate and guilty while he expounded on another brilliant platform to drive results that I could never sustain.

Instead, it felt like I had finally found someone who understood how I think and work.

I bought (and even actually read) the book, and have become mildly obsessed with understanding the relatively simple, but surely not easy approach he and his team have developed over the last 14 years. You can see a brief explanation of 4DX for yourself:

At the heart of the disciplines is the understanding that we all live and work in the midst of a whirlwind that demands our attention and energy. Much of what goes on in the whirlwind is good, much is necessary, but it prevents us from getting to the important but not urgent things that propel organizations and people forward. And if we are able to identify those Wildly Important Goals, the whirlwind constantly conspires to prevent us from giving them the attention and effort they need to succeed.

There’s really nothing new or magical in 4DX. Having reviewed and discussed it a bunch of times it’s such common sense I’m a little embarrassed I haven’t been doing it all along. Which is exactly the point.

As I’m preparing for our next major Strategy Sessions I’m more and more convinced that applying the 4 Disciplines can be a powerful and sustainable way for Catalyst to move forward to greater impact as we approach the end of our first decade of trying to help leaders and organizations be healthy and achieve their dreams.

If you’ve used 4DX I’d really love to hear your thoughts. And if it intrigues you let me know, maybe we can walk it through together and see if it’s actually as good as I expect.

Given that it is December 1st it was appropriate that at our house we had our first fire of the season, roasted chestnuts for the first time ever (mildly disappointing but nostalgic), and listened to Christmas music while enjoying cookies and hot cocoa. At one point in the beauty of the evening I found myself paying more attention to the lyrics of an old Christmas carol than I may ever have before. It may have David Francey‘s plaintive simple voice and Scottish accent, but I heard Good King Wenceslas in a way I never understood it before. We’ve been working on developing a way to encourage joyful generosity for several years. We hope we’re closer than we’ve ever been to presenting something that may be impactful for people to experience the remarkable freedom that comes from giving to others in a way that is both sacrificial and personally transformative. The familiar words of Good King Wenceslas unlocked for me a couple key principles. 1. “Good King Wenceslas looked out” In the middle of what was probably a major celebration, the king paused long enough to notice a peasant far in the distance on a snowy night. Giving requires us to turn our attention beyond ourselves and our familiar people and patterns to see needs that may usually be overlooked. 2. “Hither page and stand by me… yonder peasant who is he?” Wenceslas didn’t assume he knew the man out in the wind and snow, but he knew someone who would know, and he asked their advice. It is easy for those of us who are wealthy (and that is pretty much all of us if we have some perspective), to assume that our success in accumulating money and influence makes us experts in everything. It takes humility to go to someone else and learn from their insight, but it is the best way to avoid embarrassing waste and unintended harm to those we hope to assist. 3. “…when we bear them thither” The king went personally to the peasant. He could have simply sent the page, but he knew both that the page wasn’t strong enough to do the task alone, and that the joy. was going to come not just from assigning the wood and food to be delivered, but from going directly to share a meal. Joy rarely comes from a distance. It takes getting out of our comfortable castles to discover it at fireside with people we easily see as “other”. 4. “Mark my footsteps…” Sharing the giving experience divides the work and multiplies the joy. We can imagine that the page never saw another peasant or snowstorm without being reminded of the blessing that came from blessing the poor. In my fantasy it is the page himself who is the narrator of the song. My role with Catalyst is sometimes that of the page, helping my employers to understand and respond to the needs we notice. I am spoiled to work with and for a family who are sincere in their desire to give, who have the willingness to reduce their lifestyle to allow them to give more, and who are continually discovering that their is uncommon joy to be found in giving that makes it of greater worth to them than anything else they could do with those funds. Best of the season to you and yours.

One of our favourite days of the year is the annual reception for our Catalyst Award recipients. It’s a time to celebrate the remarkable young leaders our Selection Committee has chosen each year. The chance to hear them share their dreams and honour them among their families is an absolute joy. This year one of our recipients put together a video recap of our eight day trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic during the summer. It’s pretty great.