Saturday, January 24, 2015

the catalytic leader and the developmental leader

I have a friend who has written a short case study about two kinds of leaders. He labels the first type of leader “catalytic” and the second type of leader “developmental.”

In his story, the catalytic leader cast a compelling vision and many, many people were drawn to that. Others joined the vision because it was exciting and dynamic—but after a while they fizzled out because they had little support. Their inner life was given little nurturing.

The developmental leader focused on a small few and tried to build into them so that they could, in turn, build into others in a similar way. The small few kept going and, eventually, there emerged a few more of those “small few”. Leaders emerged out of this and multiple initiatives were birthed.

It is a good story since we are often drawn to the more “catalytic” type of leaders whereas the developmental types just carry on quietly. My friend asked for some feedback on the case study, its presentation and accompanying questions. I share my response below because it may be a help to someone else. I pray it is.

My context for this discussion is “ministry” but I suppose you could extract principles from this for almost any venue. I hope the context is not too distracting for some readers. At any rate, here are my thoughts on “catalytic” leaders and “developmental” leaders.


Well written, buddy! Good questions.

You asked a question about each type of leader learning to incorporate the other type’s approach. As someone with a developmental bias, I would say that being truly developmental has a natural catalytic affect (but see my caveat below on this), whereas being catalytic does not necessarily develop people (and can, in fact, kill the “catalytic” movement because of that). This is what your case study seems to indicate.

I suppose one caveat to that is this: if the developmental type of leader is building into people with the intent of reproduction, then it will be catalytic. Some “developmental” type of leaders build into people but have no vision to release those they are “developing.” I liken this approach to parents who teach their kids just enough…to stay dependent on the parent. Such mentoring is not developmental, to be sure…but it has the appearance of “development.” In the end, there is very little difference between this type of leader (the “developer” who wants to “keep everyone close”) and the catalytic leader who does not develop, because in the end…it will all cave in on itself. Of course, I would submit that the “developmental” leader who wants to keep everyone close and safe is not really developmental, just controlling. True development leads to differentiation, which is good, healthy and strong.

So, as your case study points out, the truly catalytic leader is the one who knows how to develop people truly. 

I am mindful here of something we in the missional movement are fond of saying. We like to say that “if you start with mission you get ministry” but “if you start with ministry you won’t get mission and eventually you won’t even have ministry.”

While I subscribe to a missional ecclesiology, I think that way of viewing it tends to come from a catalytic (“apostolic”) bias. I would tweak the statement and say, “With true discipleship you get mission—and the rest follows from that.”

Discipleship in the way of Jesus forms a developmental community with a mindset of mission. Mission provides the context for development (the need for development) but if you don’t have the developmental community in place mission tends to become a solo affair (as in the case of the “catalytic leader”). When mission is a solo affair, you don’t get development and eventually you don’t have mission because it is not sustainable.

That is why we see that true discipleship moves one to mission but mission (the way we tend to do it) does not always produce disciples. Disciple-making requires receptivity to being developed in community. Once we are receptive to being developed in community, we have an ocean of grace to buoy us up and the wind of the Spirit to drive us along.  But it takes a receptivity to developmental community to sustain that kind of journey. Without it, we fizzle out.

I think your question about each type of leader learning to adopt the traits of the other is a good one, but I would push the catalytic leader harder to become developmental than I would push the developmental leader to become “catalytic”. In fact, I would say that it could be that the developmental leader doesn’t need to be “pushed” at all—they already are being catalytic.

I admit that does show my developmental bias, but believe me when I say I’m trying my darndest to put that aside for the sake of this case study.

In either case, good work! It is well-presented and, as you can see, gets some good discussion going.

Grateful for you,


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