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The gang of four that can make or break a manager Add to ...

Excerpt from The Case of the Missing Cutlery: A Leadership Course for the Rising Star by Kevin Allen © 2014. Reprinted with permission of Bibliomotion Books + Media.

Having been awarded my first serious management job at McCann Erickson, with the remembered admonition that I would be “dinner conversation” at my employees’ homes ringing in my ears, I met my new “reports.” There were six of them, and two were old enough to be my parents. My mind raced. I assembled all of the collective learning that I could. I pored through the accepted wisdom set forth in management texts. What would Peter Drucker say? What about Theodore Levitt? Maybe I should throw out quotes from a general or two about “taking that hill,” or perhaps “closing ranks” or “ever into the breach!” Maybe I could borrow some words from a famous football coach.

Then again, I knew absolutely nothing about sports.

The answer came in the strangest form, from the most unlikely place. That weekend as I visited my family I shared my fears. My mother spoke up, “It’s simple, give them your love.” Ugh! I was exasperated by what seemed to be a perfectly ridiculous observation, a moment of momentary insanity.

Now, Mom is one of those people who doesn’t just see the glass as half full, she sees it as overflowing onto the table. She pursued her point, “It doesn’t matter what they’re doing for a living, all people are just like us–families–and every person in that family has a sense of belonging. You lead the family, and they need to know you’ll care for them. They’ll do things for you if they think you are genuine, and if they see that they’ll follow you anywhere.”

Drucker, watch out.


As you share your real ambition with a group you begin a process of enlistment. However, be prepared: not everyone will jump up and down and leap onto your bandwagon. In fact, far from it. Enlistment will be a bit of a lonely trek to start off with. It has been very handy for me, and at times quite comforting, to categorize people into four groupings: catalysts, followers, observers, resistors.


This is the best way I can describe catalysts: when you are about to speak to a group of people and you scan the room and see one person’s eyes light up and his body language say, “I’m with you”–that person is a catalyst. Catalysts are forward-leaning, glass-half-full people. They are optimists, and they’re generous of spirit. These individuals will instinctively bond with you culturally and your message will resonate with them instantly. So when you hold your first management team meeting, scan the room and look at your new team’s faces–your catalysts will raise their hands, often literally. This is true not only in small gatherings but throughout the organization. Catalysts will raise their hands and make it clear they are with you. Bring them close to you. Create “kitchen cabinets” and other work groups across organizational boundaries. This is especially helpful if you are in a position where you have a great deal of authority over large numbers of people who don’t work directly for you. These catalysts will become your spokespeople, ambassadors, and stalwart defenders. Identify them, support them, pro– mote them. In all cases, make it clear to your organization that these are the people to be emulated.


Followers are timid catalysts. They are predisposed toward you and show interest in your efforts, but would not be the first to put their heads above the parapet. They like being part of the team, not leading a team. Identifying work teams with catalyst leader– ship will attract followers. When you set up tasks with catalyst leaders, the followers will very quickly “sign up.” They will revel in the recognition of their team’s accomplishments toward your real ambition.


Observers are on-the-fence people. They are wary and want to see which way the wind blows. They don’t actively work against you, but in the early stages they don’t work for you either. They will need more incentive and encouragement to move toward the gathering but if they see visible success they will eventually join in.


Like catalysts, these people are vital keys to the enlistment process. They come in two forms: the vocal objector and the passive resister. The vocal objector … makes concerns or opposition clear early on. The person’s motivation for objecting might include a rivalry for your position. Often, the resistance is based on fear and a sense of self– preservation; vocal objectors may believe that the direction you are taking will do nothing other than threaten a comfortable status quo. The good news: they are easy to spot.

Passive resisters are the real threat. They look like observers, but while smiling in assent, they quietly sow the seeds of discord. This makes observers and followers very nervous and prevents them from moving toward catalysts.


The key to creating your cohesive team and beginning the enlistment process is this: identify and celebrate your catalysts; recruit and neutralize your resisters. I strongly believe, as you are finding out here, in a management principle that is not based on coercion but rather on igniting people emotionally. However, this is a not a “Kumbaya” zone. You must act swiftly and without hesitation to enlist your team in rallying your catalysts and take action against resisters. Resisters are your most potent threat and, left unaddressed, can derail your entire agenda and swing the tide of observers and followers their way.

Many leaders have told me that if they had a magic wand they would make an organization catalyze in an instant. Start by identifying each of these typologies in your organization. First rally your catalysts. Meet with them individually to get them excited about the future. Tell them you need their help. At the same time, identify and meet with your resisters. Let them know you need their support and give them a chance to air their apprehensions– their concerns may well be valid, and if you address them, these resisters might just become catalysts. In many instances, they are simply testing your mettle. The fact is, a converted resister is worth their weight in gold, as they can swing the tide of followers and observers in your direction.

If you perceive no change in the resisters you have attempted to persuade to your side, they must go. There is nothing more dangerous and corrosive than an active resister who will work against your agenda. And, by the way, such action makes it clear that you are firm and decisive about the steps necessary to ensure your real ambition. (Getting rid of such a negative force will also, dare I say, have that “Ding dong, the witch is dead” effect.)

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