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The Catalyst: How You Can Become an Extraordinary Growth Leader [Hardcover]

Jeanne Liedtka , Robert Rosen , Robert Wiltbank
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

March 24 2009
How ordinary managers in any economy
can do extraordinary things to build
sustainable growth engine

The Catalyst speaks to all managers who have ever been handed ambitious growth targets but little guidance on how to hit them. Managers like you who, year in and year out, face “the terror of the plug.” The boss expects you to deliver a daunting revenue target but offers little advice on how to get there. Even worse is “growth gridlock,” when your company won’t support your great ideas until you prove they’re good–which is impossible since you can’t get the proof until you’ve tried them out first. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, you spend your time persuading with PowerPoint presentations instead of pursuing opportunities.

What does it take to overcome such seemingly insurmountable roadblocks? How can you crack the code to discover and pursue new opportunities? How can smart organizations recruit growth leaders, train them, and learn from them instead of getting in their way? These are the questions explored in The Catalyst. Based on years of research, this inspiring book reveals that the most potent drivers of growth are unsung heroes who often go unnoticed: ordinary middle managers who do extraordinary things.

Intrigued by how some people were able to consistently deliver the numbers–despite both internal obstacles and highly challenging conditions in the marketplace–the authors discovered not only how they did it, but also the personal and psychological characteristics of those who succeeded. They distilled the lessons into practical tools, including:

Turn lemons into lemonade: How what may appear to be flat or dead-end businesses can be turned into growth-oriented enterprises that create cool new products and tap new audiences.
Get a bigger box: How not to just “think outside the box,” but create a bigger box by being wired for opportunity.
Get rid of the monkey: Why the real monkey isn’t Corporate on your back, but Corporate in your head.
It could be staring you right in the face: The hidden secret of growth is not relying only on development of dramatic new products or technological breakthroughs, but finding opportunities already there that are overlooked by the
competition.
Do It. Now!: Breaking through growth gridlock comes from “learning by doing,” not through detailed analysis and planning.

The Catalyst is for people in the middle looking to free themselves from the shackles of business as usual–and deliver the organic growth that’s demanded of them. But it’s also for CEOs and CFOs who want to release the creativity lying dormant within their businesses.

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Review

“Jeanne Liedtka has dedicated herself for years–with passion and rigor–to an inspired concept: people can build pockets of greatness deep inside any organization. Growth leadership is a choice, not a blessing from above–a choice made by largely unknown heroes who create exceptional enterprises, no matter what the bureaucratic obstacles. By studying these remarkable internal entrepreneurs and lending fresh insight as to how they achieve success, she has done the world of management a tremendous service.”
—Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and coauthor of Built to Last

“Bob Rosen, Jeanne Liedtka, and Rob Wiltbank unlock the secret to growth in today’s turbulent and uncertain times. The Catalyst is a must-read book for all leaders of the twenty-first century.”
—Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author of What Got You There Won’t Get You There

“For anyone who really wants a practical, commonsense approach to how innovation and growth really happen . . . these guys have cracked the nut!”
—HARRY KRAEMER, former CEO of Baxter International and clinical professor of Management and Strategy, Kellogg School of Management

“The timing of this book couldn’t be better. When the markets are tough and you can still grow, you’ve really differentiated yourself–you’ve risen above. This book will show you how to develop a sustainable growth engine. We’ve used its principles at Harris and they work.”
—Howard L. Lance, chairman, president, and CEO, Harris Corporation

“Finally! A book that unlocks the secrets of the middle managers who create new innovative businesses inside the heart of big companies. This is Built to Last for the rest of us.”
—Gerry Langeler, director, OVP Venture Partners, and founder, Mentor Graphics Corp

“A radical, totally original book on how to create and sustain organic organizational growth. A must-read for all managers.”
—Warren Bennis, distinguished professor of business, University of Southern California, and coauthor of Transparency and Judgment

About the Author

JEANNE LIEDTKA is a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Formerly the executive director of the school’s Batten Institute, Jeanne has consulted with a wide variety of organizations and their leaders, from museums to law firms to large corporations, since beginning her career as a strategy consultant for the Boston Consulting Group.

ROBERT ROSEN, chairman and CEO of Healthy Companies International, and an internationally recognized psychologist and business advisor, has interviewed and advised hundreds of CEOs around the world. He is the best-selling author of Just Enough Anxiety, Leading People, Global Literacies, and The Healthy Company.

ROBERT WILTBANK is a partner of Buerk Dale Victor, a growth-stage venture capital fund based in Seattle, Washington, working with dozens of new ventures in a wide variety of industries. He is also a professor of strategic management in the Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to grow leaders who will grow the organization March 31 2009
By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Jeanne Liedtka, Robert Rosen, and Robert Wiltback completed a three-year study sponsored by the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business. They share what they learned in this volume. Their research focused on better understanding the role of operating managers in achieving organic growth. Eventually they assembled a pool of 255 candidates, then selected 25 to be interviewed in depth, later increased the number to more than 50, and by the time they concluded their study they had accumulated more than 3,000 pages of transcripts of their conversations with the managers. They also asked them to take several psychometric instruments, and interviewed their subordinates. o asked them to take several psychometric instruments, and interviewed their subordinates.

As Liedtka, Rosen, and Wiltback explain, "We wanted to know, first of all, if these leaders could be identified by a particular set of traits that would help C-suite executives identify and recruit them. Even more important, we wanted to know if the behaviors that these people exhibited could be learned by other managers...What we wanted to find out was whether their techniques and strategies could be [begin italics] taught [end italics] to other managers...What we learned exceeded our wildest dreams." The title of their book was a word that they chose very carefully to describe their exemplary leaders. "Catalysts drive action. But there's more. In science the term catalyst refers specifically to an agent that is [begin italics] required [end italics] to activate a particular chemical reaction. In other words, chemical catalysts don't just make things happen; they make things happen that wouldn't happen at all without them.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to grow leaders who will grow the organization March 31 2009
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jeanne Liedtka, Robert Rosen, and Robert Wiltback completed a three-year study sponsored by the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business. They share what they learned in this volume. Their research focused on better understanding the role of operating managers in achieving organic growth. Eventually they assembled a pool of 255 candidates, then selected 25 to be interviewed in depth, later increased the number to more than 50, and by the time they concluded their study they had accumulated more than 3,000 pages of transcripts of their conversations with the managers. They also asked them to take several psychometric instruments, and interviewed their subordinates.

As Liedtka, Rosen, and Wiltback explain, "We wanted to know, first of all, if these leaders could be identified by a particular set of traits that would help C-suite executives identify and recruit them. Even more important, we wanted to know if the behaviors that these people exhibited could be learned by other managers...What we wanted to find out was whether their techniques and strategies could be [begin italics] taught [end italics] to other managers...What we learned exceeded our wildest dreams." The title of their book was a word that they chose very carefully to describe their exemplary leaders. "Catalysts drive action. But there's more. In science the term catalyst refers specifically to an agent that is [begin italics] required [end italics] to activate a particular chemical reaction. In other words, chemical catalysts don't just make things happen; they make things happen that wouldn't happen at all without them. They accomplish this by reducing the barriers that would, under normal circumstances, prevent a reaction. That is exactly how the growth leaders - our corporate catalysts - overcame growth gridlock [i.e. an entrepreneurial initiative is neutralized by administrative skepticism] and the terror of the plug [i.e. an arbitrary, often unrealistic revenue target] in their organization."

After first identifying the "what" of leading extraordinary growth, the authors devote most of their attention throughout the book to explaining the "how" and "why" of it. There is minimal provision of theory and hypothesis in their narrative. (However, they do offer some excellent advice about translating a sound business idea into a sound hypothesis on Pages 209-213.) Wisely, they focus on real managers in real-world situations, allowing their core concepts and insights to develop and emerge organically. Their material provides answers to questions such as these:

Why do most growth initiatives fail?
What are the "unnatural acts" that Catalysts commit?
Which is the best "path" to producing growth?
What is the "virtuous cycle" and why is it important?
What are some of the myths about entrepreneurs and why are they wrong?
How do Catalysts test their new business ideas?
What are the seven formulas for reframing and how to apply them?
Why are learning launches so important? How to achieve success with one?
How to lead a high-performing growth team with "pragmatic idealism"?
How do Catalysts use speed effectively to achieve high-growth?

These are but a few of the questions that Liedtka, Rosen, and Wiltback address. They even provide a Postscript, "Advice to the C-Suite on Growing Leaders." Once again, the material is rock-solid and presented with uncommon clarity. Of special interest to me are a set of goals and "a kind of manifesto" of six strategies formulated by 45 senior managers in Westinghouse Electric's Engineering Services (WES) division, now owned by Toshiba. The goals and strategies are best revealed in context, within a frame-of-reference, and can be found on pages 228-230. The importance of the WES example is that it suggests what almost any organization can do to help individual leaders to create top-line revenue growth. The WES example also suggests some "interesting directions for senior executives thinking about kick-starting the growth engine in their business." Liedtka, Rosen, and Wiltback identify six initial steps to accomplish that worthy objective on pages 240-242.

In "the best of all possible worlds," an organization will have Catalysts at all levels and in all areas of operation who achieve and then sustain extraordinary growth. Even in an ideal world, however, not everyone involved at any one time will be a Catalyst. Hence the importance of a workplace culture that attracts high-potential Catalysts and in which it then "grows" them, with Catalysts serving as mentors centrally involved in that developmental process. I really do believe that there are many such organizations now at various stages of an admittedly long and perilous journey to fulfill all of their potentialities. Will any reach that destination? Perhaps not but at least everyone involved will have achieved personal as well as well as organizational goals that would not otherwise be possible. Those thinking about "kick-starting the growth engine in their business" and are in need of guidance and encouragement would be well-advised to read this book and do so with appropriate care. The value of what Jeanne Liedtka, Robert Rosen, and Robert Wiltback offer is incalculable.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to the Future May 29 2009
By Reader of Everything - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a social entrepreneur without a bureaucracy who spends much of his time cold-calling government bureaucrats and mid-level business managers , The Catalyst really rang home with me. Explaining how to end-run the "that's the way we do things" attitude and the "I've got enough on my plate" inertia of America to actually accomplish something, this book sets the guidelines for how to turn burgeoning ideas into working projects in a fun, perceptive style.
Filled with terse, but insightful comments ("Make a small bet fast," "Be willing to call the baby ugly")in context, the Catalyst is both a philosophy for change and a blueprint for how to get there in America's corporate culture demanding massive "needle movements" yet unable to let go of enough power to even nudge the bottom line.
In America's obsession with increasing short-term shareholder value in order to appease Wall Street, we've forgotten that the long-term business of business is to make life better for customers; to work with the customer and not simply view him as a "sucker born every minute," as P.T. Barnum is famous for putting it. Adam Smith, we often forget, was a social reformist, not an economist demanding that every idea be backed up by a cult of numbers, and he explicitly mentioned the interaction between manufacturer/seller and buyer/user as the ethic that allows capitalism to flourish.
Especially in today's economic climate, a book which returns us to the real philosophy of Main Street, yet does so while addressing the culture of Wall Street, is a book that ought to be read by every person with a good idea and by every manager trying to generate innovation, and change, in their organizations.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected June 21 2009
By KMM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
My son gave me his copy of "The Catalyst" along with this comprehensive recommendation...."You'll like this book". I must admit I was somewhat puzzled about why he thought the topic would be of any interest to me. As a middle manager in a large corporation, becoming a "Growth Leader", let alone an "Extraordinary Growth Leader", did not appear to be a realistic possibility given my span of authority and position in a corporate support function. However, from page 1, the authors, Liedtka, Rosen and Wiltbank, strongly and convincingly showed me otherwise. If I were to assign a celebrity voice to the authors, it would be that of William Shatner as the Priceline Negotiator. Like Shatner, they entice you with the possibilities, explain the successes and then dare you to try. The timid, nervous and apprehensive or in Shatnor speak, the namby pambies, wusses and cupcakes should save their money and buy Tums instead.
5.0 out of 5 stars The book presents a practical way of thinking that can be applied readily. Nov. 25 2013
By Neal Blossom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book presents a practical way of thinking that can be applied readily. Yes it gets a little too starry eyed at times as if you can just think this way and click your heals three times and you can achieve growth. But the specific examples are clear, concise and readily applicable. The techniques presented are something I have learned the hard way but this book helped to crystallize the approaches presented and reaffirmed the techniques we are using now and seeing quick progress.
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