Do You Work For A Chief Executive Or A Chief Catalyzer?

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My kids have taken to playing “office”. They’ll sit at their desks, laptops in hand, and begin crunching through one grueling project after the next. Lately they’ve been consumed with doing their taxes. Today they decided to form their own company. All was right with the world until it was time to select the President and a company name. After several minutes of arguing, they disbanded.


It was amusing because they captured the essence of most organizations. Deciding on an org chart and “branding” becomes the annual strategy session. Weeks are spent brainstorming and presenting ideas that many believe will become the foundation of the company. Oftentimes, upon conclusion of these strategy sessions, everyone parts ways, returns to work, and the status quo reigns supreme. Honestly, it’s these mundane exercises that have discouraged me from pursuing the C-Suite. I totally buy in to “Lean In”, I’m just not sure that most of what’s out there is worth leaning into.

I spent the weekend thinking over the traditional role of a CEO. Pushing the white male stereotype aside, you usually picture someone in a suit, with a large office, and very disconnected from the day to day operations of the company. Certainly “Undercover Boss”, no matter how scripted, affirmed this. They’re well connected, have a strong understanding of business, were most likely Ivy groomed, and are good in a room. They are an executive. But every so often you’re fortunate to work with a leader who can push aside tradition, and embrace the role of a catalyzer.

Catalyzers initiate. They increase the rate of speed. They produce fundamental change and they transform. Effective organizations always have a catalyzer leading the way. And usually that Chief Catalyzing Officer has placed team lead catalyzers throughout the company. These are the people that can take the ideas, the spitball sessions, the tedious brainstorming, and create action. They know how to define the objective, boil it down to its simplest form, and generate results. Quite simply, they get it done. They extend beyond strategizing, and planning. Anyone who’s worked with me knows that I preach the 1/3:2/3 Rule. 1/3 of your time should be spent planning, and 2/3 should be spent executing. Catalyzers drive tangible results out of the entire whole.

How do they do this? They start by defining the objective. While input is important, they understand that business is not a democracy and reaching 100% agreement will never happen. Catalyzers make a decision, communicate the objective and inform everyone of the role they’ll play in achieving it. They employ strong project managers who detail the plan and resources. Catalyzers baseline and measure progress. If a catalyzer is running a meeting, you never leave without action items and due dates. Catalyzers drive the progress and celebrate the success. They have a contagious energy that delivers results. They’ve also, most likely, done the work before. At one time they sat in a cube, or an open pit, and struggled with cold calls, alignment, product bug fixing, or working the copier. Because they’ve had to execute, they known where to eliminate redundancies and improve workflows.

Catalyzers are people we should strive to be.

Do you work for a Chief Executive, or a Chief Catalyzer?


Marilyn Cox

Marilyn Cox is the Director of Marketing for Second City Works - the B2B division of the famed Second City.

You know the buzzwords; inbound, outbound, content, demand gen, lead gen, martech, social media, account-based, advocacy, customer success, sales enablement, and analytics.She studies it, plans it, executes it, experiments with it, and loves it.

Through discovery, creation, and innovation she's learned to say "Yes, And".Like business, her career is one big improvisational act.

She leads all aspects of the brand and culture, developing and executing a clearly defined, integrated marketing communications strategy.Marilyn is responsible for planning, organizing, staffing, training, and managing all marketing functions to achieve objectives of growth, awareness, customer success and making work better.

Marilyn exists to empower sales and support the customer. When not geeking out over marketing analytics, she can be found daydreaming about her unrealized dream as a professional wrestler with the WWE.
2 Responses to "Do You Work For A Chief Executive Or A Chief Catalyzer?"
  1.' Steve Kayser says:

    Excellent post young lady. Catalytic! Good thinking. Now … how do you groom them? Mentor them to be catalyzers? Or is it an innate character trait?


    “They have a contagious energy that delivers results.” And it’s most helpful if that is positive energy as opposed to eeyore vampires.

    You are correct about execution. That’s where it always falls down. When I worked with you, you were the best and follow-up and execution – even when the odds were stacked against you.


    I think you left an adjective off this sentence “Pushing the white male stereotype aside,” — shouldn’t there be an old in front of the ‘white”?

    “And very disconnected from the day to day operations of the company.” ( if they actually show up)

    • Marilyn Cox says:

      Excellent question Steve! I believe it’s both. Training and mentoring is key. There are elements of planning and execution that can be taught to anyone. However, the finesse required to be particularly effective and to drive fundamental change is simply an innate character trait.

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