Catalyst, Leadership, Partners, Vision

Lessons from the Mall

Yesterday during a mentoring session with an amazing younger leader we came up with an analogy that seems pretty helpful. Let me know if it works for you too. My friend is the kind of person who is talented in just about everything. He has tons of interests and seems to find success at every turn. That’s great, but it also leaves potential for him to be overwhelmed with opportunities of many kinds; all of which are appealing, and all of which he could probably do pretty well. At this point he doesn’t have one key focal point to centre everything, and sometimes that makes it hard to know what to say yes to, and what to turn down. We began talking about how shopping malls are built with large department stores (called anchor stores) at the ends, where main entrances are often located, and a large variety of smaller specialty shops are scattered in between. The status of any mall is largely determined by which chains set up as anchor stores, and their well-being is critical to the business model of the entire facility. While many shoppers may come to the mall for the specialty shops, its the anchor stores that ultimately are most essential for success. An empty storefront in the middle of the lower concourse is no big deal, but if the two story giant at the North entrance doesn’t have a tenant for long the mall is probably in trouble. The same is true for high potential leaders. There are an enormous variety of possibilities that can be pursued, and there is lots of value to be found in them. The danger is that we dabble in so many different things that our impact is scattered and ultimately reduced. We need anchors that help us determine what to say yes to and what to turn down. For many people their paid role becomes the anchor, which makes sense, but isn’t always a reliable focus. For others it may be a particular cause or relationship. Over time the anchors are likely to change repeatedly and the most mature leaders I know find their anchors in a confident and realistic assessment of their own abilities and values, rather than in external contexts. At Catalyst we have worked hard to identify our anchors and structure energy, budget, and strategy around them, while still really enjoying having some margin available for specialty opportunities and projects that are compatible with our dreams. At this point we would say that Stronger Together, the Catalyst Award, and our Gather partnerships are our anchors. In among those are numerous smaller consulting, mentoring, supporting, and funding projects that we enjoy without permitting them to take us away from the needed focus on our anchors. When challenges arise, we know that the anchors get priority and the specialty shops can go without our attention for awhile without major repercussions. The point is, every leader and organization should be able to identify their anchors (or big rocks, or strategic priorities, or whatever). It makes a lot of tough choices easier and gives focus that multiplies impact. Something to think about next time you go shopping…