The Catalyst

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As the laws of physics state, an object at rest tends to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. This inertia can be the death knell of an organization, cause or culture. The question, of course, becomes how to transition any endeavor or enterprise; how to transform or merely reinvigorate a program toward a necessary objective. In science, what is needed is a catalyst—an agent of change—that, once introduced, provokes required outcomes. These results can often become an impetus for progress that, once initiated, organically create a repeatable and scalable model for success.

This requirement falls squarely on the shoulders of leadership, and the recurring theme associated with leaders is their ability to transfer their seemingly boundless energy to those around them. Getting a group of people to work homogeneously towards an end must have, at its root, a spark. The examples span disciplines—the obvious archetype is within the military. Generals throughout the ages, such as William Sherman, Erwin Rommel and George Patton, to name of few, inspired almost mythical or legendary auras around their ability to lead. In athletics, coaches like Vince Lombardi, John Wooden and Bob Knight exuded, in a unique way, a force that commanded. On the field, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis displays an almost supernatural ability to instill passion and performance in those around him. Others, such as Brett Favre, have a level of energy and enthusiasm that seems to make those around them demonstratively better.

So what of the business world? Does the C-level suite demand the same transformative energy? Perhaps, but one must be cautious here, as traps abound. What is not intended is for the business leader to replace energy with time. Too often, business leaders take the very same personal characteristics that lend themselves to entrepreneurialism and allow them to negatively impact how they lead. Micromanagement, the inability to give up ownership of decision making or redundancy in a management model, will not inspire. In fact, it will de-motivate and enervate or weaken resolve. On the other hand, when we look at the renowned chief executives of the recent past (such as Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, to name of few), their backgrounds and expertise were different, but what is common to each is an energy and enthusiasm for the direction they were headed. Their ability to positively impact their sphere of influence is astounding. Their propensity to “sell” their vision to anyone who could aid in the attempt is quantifiable. For what more is a leader than someone who can get those around him to join the fight?

This requirement is not only at the Fortune 500 level. In fact, it may be even more prescient in small- and medium-sized businesses. In smaller firms, the business owner not only is the face of the firm, he also often does much of the heavy lifting. These owner/operators must unequivocally maintain a veneer of invincibility with respect to those around them. To their employees, they are the smartest guy in the room and often chief moneylender. To their vendors, they must impress a solvency and acuteness often far beyond reality. To their families and the families of their employees, they are a bastion of strength.

With these responsibilities, the common result is that the energy of the owner is eroded. Too frequently, the business owner permits himself to be pulled into the day-to-day, versus allowing his systems and processes to remain cardinal and his energies channeled not towards innovative intents, but operational necessity. But, not to fear. There is help on the way for these business owners. For if their organizational charts are adequately assembled, there exists an ancillary regiment in the form of key personnel. It is an owner’s very own middle management that must revitalize the firm’s approach. These beacons of energy act as boosters throughout the firm to rally the troops and maintain momentum. Of course, it is incumbent upon every business owner to reward these stewards with performance-based incentives based on established agendas, goals and quotas bent on benchmarks or yardsticks for performance.

However, the story doesn’t end there. A team can be energized, but without clients, the team’s efforts are lost. This brings us to the last energy frontier, the sales force. Nowhere is an energetic schematic more requisite than in a firm’s sales and marketing strategy. The days of repeat and referral are behind us. A sales strategy is about a relentless pursuit; it’s about activity. But, at its core, it’s again about a transfer of energy—from the salesman to the client. All the “blue ocean” strategies in the world cannot replace the fact that client acquisition entails an emotional decision. All the analytics and logic put forth can only support the client’s affecting decision. Hence, it is up to the salesman to be at the emotional front lines for a business. As the “tip of the spear,” he truly embodies the vision first spurred by the firm’s leadership and furthered by middle management. This collective framework of energy can instigate a flywheel of growth and performance that once started, feeds on itself—our object, now in motion, remaining as such.

About Peter Napoli 1 Article
Peter Napoli is a survey services director. Peter is a level 2 CFA candidate and a former derivatives trader.

1 Comment

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