Above & Beyond – The Catalytic Power of Leaders

What was divine, was the bearing of those few souls who rose above the battle and gave their strength to others, so that bravery ran through the ranks like an electric current. All of us in the war saw such men, and the moments they inspired. For the sake of that the rest was worthwhile.’ F Yeats Brown from ’Bengal Lancer’, describing the Western Front

A catalyst is a substance that speeds up the rate of a chemical reaction without being changed itself. Good leaders have the same power. Their magic is the power to take others beyond what they thought possible. Limits and limitations that we set ourselves as individuals or in teams are shoved aside in the face of this force of willpower and belief. Sometimes that can be a bruising experience. Steve Jobs as founder and CEO of Apple was famous for what others called a reality distortion field. An unwillingness to recognize ‘facts’ and instead to demand the impossible, in the process transmitting his own unshakable aura of belief. Ultimately Job’s leadership power showed in how frequently he was able to take others beyond the borders of their own belief in what was possible.

In a previous post goo.gl/CBL2q7 we talked about the limitations we create by defining ‘reasonable effort’. The power of great leaders is their ability to generate unreasonable effort. In the Army there is an expression that there are no bad units only bad Officers. The wisdom at the heart of this statement is that it does not matter what the raw material is like, if only the leadership is good.

In the film, Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, the story of the first few weeks of Churchill’s coalition Government as France falls and invasion seems imminent is told. The film culminates with Churchill’s address to the commons on the 4th June 1940 when he proclaims; ‘We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. Churchill was such a remarkable and effective war time leader because of the power of his own belief and ultimately his ability to transmit that to the Nation. As the character of Lord Halifax observes at the end of the film ‘ Churchill has mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.’


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