Key Take-Aways from The Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick

An important part of a leader’s job is to look on the long horizon. It’s to see what’s coming. It’s to be ahead of your people so you can take them somewhere. TED is a great place to be exposed to emerging ideas. So is Catalyst, an organization designed to help young adult leaders quickly reach their potential.

Catalyst Leader BookBrad Lomenick is head of Catalyst. He is a leader’s leader. Everyday he is immersed in new ideas about what’s next, coming from many of the best leaders of our day. That’s what makes his book The Catalyst Leader – 8 Essentials For Becoming A Change Maker one of my “must reads” this year. Brad brings together great ideas in a uniquely transparent and accessible way. Here are the key takeaways:


There will be times when you are called to do something, but not equipped to do it. (Recognize this is an increasingly common dynamic for young leaders.)

Yesterday young people had to wait as their elders aged out of office. Today organizations are opening positions for young people’s fresh thinking and idealism.

For better or worse, young people can grasp life’s reins earlier than ever before.

Many have platforms that exceed their wisdom.


Focus on what God has called each of us to do (not on comparing each others’ callings).

Be faithful where you are. God is responsible for how big your influence gets. – Rick Warren

Pursuing one’s calling isn’t a life sentence. (Your calling is for now and may change with time).

When people lead well they are more likely to finish well.

The goal is not perfection, but a posture of moving toward healthy habits.

Ambition must be grounded in wisdom. Inspiration must be built with boundaries. Passions need the steady hand of principles to guide them.

Choose integrity over immediacy.

Don’t allow your ambitions to blind you to the team’s needs, the organization’s health, or the well-being of your family.

Seeking God’s will for your life begins by asking yourself, “What keeps me awake when I should be falling asleep at night?

Questions to ask that help you discover God’s will:
> What are your passions and gifts?
> What would you work on or want to do for free?
> What energized you when you were a child?
> If you could do anything and take a pay cut, what would that be?
> What barriers are preventing you from pursuing your true calling?
> If you aren’t engaging your gifts where you are now, could you make changes in your current role to better engage those gifts?

The divine course is not mysterious or evasive, but walking it likely requires sacrifices.

Higher calling matters. When you care so deeply about the why – why you are doing what you are doing – then and only then are you operating in a way that allows you to overcome the obstacles. – Dave Ramsey

Never compare our beginning with someone else’s ending. – Jon Acuff

Instead of wondering what your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from. – Seth Godin


Brad shares, “I’m best when I’m being me. Every leader faces a temptation to project a persona rather than be themselves. They think that in order to maintain the confidence of their team, they must appear faultless, flawless and ever wise. Most organizations need an authentic leader, not a perfect one.
(Our organization) needs someone they can trust and follow. That can only happen if I embrace who I am rather than try to be someone else.
Be yourself. Authenticity trumps cool every time. – Craig Groeschel

Perhaps the ultimate freedom is the freedom to be one’s self. – Daniel Pink

If we don’t learn to be content with who God has made us and called us to be, then we will never reach our potential as influences.

People are more perceptive than we give them credit for. They recognize when we’re putting up a front or constructing a false persona.

Usually the leader is the only person who doesn’t realize how uncomfortable they’re making everyone else (when they construct a false persona).

When you find yourself in uncomfortable situations and feel the urge to pretend you’re someone else, resist it. The best person you can be in that moment is the one you already are.

The digital age makes it easy to be inauthentic. Individuals now have the power to create a person in whatever image they choose, even if it doesn’t match reality.

New media encourages us to be “on” all the time, an in such a setting, authenticity requires intentionality. Social media must be viewed not only as a way to connect, but also an avenue for honesty about who we are.

There’s beauty in imperfection. When something becomes too polished, it loses its soul. Authenticity trumps professionalism! – Christine Caine

Our society has created an appetite for authenticity. Consumers crave magazine covers without unrealistic, Photoshopped veneers.

47% of young leaders said they first look for authenticity in a potential boss.

40% of young leaders say authenticity is one of the most important leadership traits of the next decade.

A journey begins with learning to be comfortable in your own skin.

We must grow comfortable with who we are before we can share that person with others.
No one wants to work for someone who seems unaware of his or her faults, failures and weaknesses.

Authenticity is the new authority in leaders. – Mark Batterson

Sharing your failures and weaknesses is crucial to letting people in and empowering you to lead well.

Those around you will connect with you when they share in your failures and not only your successes.

It’s okay for those around you to see your weaknesses. We don’t have to be perfect, but to be catalyst leaders, we’d better be authentic.

Originality is overrated. Authenticity is what matters. – Whitney George

The more ladder rungs you climb within an organization, and the more power you have access to, the more chance of being inaccessible and protected. -Chris Seay

Leaders who are willing to share honestly about their own struggles immediately gain influence.

When you are in a hurry or think someone isn’t worth your time, remember that you were once in that position.

When you’re small, act big. When you’re big, act small.

With social media and technology, the game has changed. People expect to be able to always connect with you.

Best practices for cultivating authenticity:
> Practice self-awareness. Before you can release your true self you have to recognize your true self.
> Question yourself. Whose attention do you crave? What is it that you don’t like about yourself, and how can that short-coming also be a strength?
> Move from self-promotion to storytelling. If you want to be a change maker, begin to see public outlets as places for sharing your personal story.
> Resist the urge to create a digital alter ego. Claire Diaz Ortiz says “Social media is not just about being connected. It’s about being transparent, intimate, and honest.”
> Learn to laugh at yourself.
> Build a support network. Keep honest people in your life that can help you stay grounded and keep you from thinking that you’ve arrived.
> Be interested over interesting. Be more concerned with listening instead of talking.
Constantly turn over the rocks in your life and leadership. Uncover areas that need to be made clean. Big things are at stake.
It’s easier to impress people from a distance, so many leaders keep others at arm’s length.

You can impress people from a distance, but you can only influence them up close. – Rick Warren

We often prefer digital interaction to life-on-life exchanges. This insulates us and prevents others from uncovering our weaknesses. But it also reduces our ability to influence others.

The result of authenticity is freedom from fear, and this is a liberty that every leader needs to truly reach their potential.


Being a change maker means realizing that commitment to God and passion for following Jesus cannot be compartmentalized. For the catalyst leader, Mondays  through Fridays are holy days.

No matter where you work, your job can be an act of worship and service to God.

The way we live out our personal callings says a lot about how we see ourselves. It reveals whether we view ourselves as worshipers or ones who desire to be worshiped.

A catalyst leader understands that the foundation of life and the source of true influence must be a deep love for God and desire to glorify Him.

Passion is infectious, so I try to fill our team’s ranks with people who display this trait.

Christians today like to debate whether following Jesus with great passion is a matter of doing or being. But I think it is both.

Following Jesus cannot be purely private. When God touches you, your passion for him flows out of you and onto those around you.

Your internal passion determines external reach.

Your heart will shape the actions of your hands.

Too many build up their heads without minding their hearts. Spiritual development is often ignored.

Christian leaders who are most successful today tell me that spiritual ardor is integral, rather than accessory, to leading well.

Many people today claim to love God but aren’t rooted in God’s Word and in their relationships with Him.

I encourage leaders to set aside portions of their week to block out their pressures of life and pray, meditate, and seek God’s face.

Sustained leadership requires practicing the discipline of replenishment. Nothing will sap your passion for God like burnout.

Building margin in our lives is powerful and absolutely crucial for leaders. Margin is the fuel for responding to the unexpected.

As a leaders’ margins decrease, so does their spiritual vitality.

Petition God to light a fire for His glory inside you.


Just keep taking the next step and keep having excellence in the ordinary. – Dave Ramsey

There are at least two components to leading capably: the right standard and the right staff.

Being a capable leader doesn’t mean being big. Or being expensive. It’s called being excellent.

Every great organization has a few areas where their standards are so high it’s annoying. this is a good thing. Set standards that scare you, and work to achieve them.

The best ideas win.

God is an excellent God. He does things as well as possible. So should we. We want to do things the best we can do it, because God deserves our very best. God living in us informs the way we do things and the kind of excellence that God demands. – Shelley Giglio

Excellence is built on three pillars: clarity, focus and connection. – Holly Green

Excellence starts with getting very clear on the end state you wish to achieve (winning) and relentlessly driving towards it every day. – Holly Green

No on ever said leadership is easy. Your job as a leader is to make the difficult decisions and carry more responsibility. Embrace it.

When filling an opening, I look for make-it-happen kind of people.

Capable leaders:

> Constantly push forward.
> Are team players.
> Own their mistakes.
> Willing to take risks.
> Constant learners.
> Aren’t entitled.
> Are anticipators.
> Are persistent.
> Are trustworthy.
> Deliver.

Hard work is a prison cell only if the work has no meaning. – Malcolm Gladwell

Resist the temptation to believe that you can carry an entire organization on the back of your talents or passions alone. You must surround yourself with equally gifted leaders who share a common commitment to excellence.

A high standard of excellence starts with you.

Excellence is a spirit, rather than a presentation. But if the spirit is there for excellence, then a great presentation will follow. – Joel Houston

Do two things to maintain excellence: lead by example and value your people. – Joel Houston

If what you are doing is important, you will encounter resistance. If what you are doing isn’t important, it will be easy. – Donald Miller

Capable leaders hustle.

Capable leaders are not afraid to get their hands dirty and reach down into the mess to move things forward.

Whatever you are, be a good one. – Abraham Lincoln

One way to increase your organization’s capability is to reduce sideways energy (wasting time on little things when the energy could be spent better elsewhere).


A single act of courage is often the tipping point for extraordinary change. – Andy Stanley

Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s inspiring others to move beyond it. – Nelson Mandela

Small acts of courage are possible every day, but we shy away from such deeds due to our fears of ‘rocking the status quo.‘ – Jamie Walters

The influencers I respect the most are the ones who live and lead bravely.

Courage is not just an individual trait but an organizational one.

Do the thing you fear the most. – Rick Warren

Fear in leadership is connected to uncertainty about the future. But uncertainty about the future is never going to go away. Uncertainty is why there are leaders. Uncertainty gives you job security. – Andy Stanley

Tips for building a culture of courage in your organization:
> Set scary standards.
> Allow for failure.
> Reward innovation.
> Pursue the right opportunities. Not every risk is a good one.
> Learn to delegate. If you want your team to be courageous, give them the chance to lead.

The road to success is many times put together through multiple failures. Allow for and even encourage your team to fail as they attempt to succeed.

Courage calls us to confront and push, even when everything inside of us beckons us away from it.


Greatness is not about personality. It’s about humility, plus will. That is where the essence of leadership begins. – Jim Collins

Leaders are defined by their inner strengths and convictions, not the outer portrayal of who they are.

You character will determine your level of leadership and even your legacy.
Reputation can’t be delegated.
Reputation takes a lifetime to build but only a few seconds to lose.
The best leaders are reflectors of praise, not absorbers. (Redirect praise back to your team & God.)
Humility is not denying your strength. Humility is being honest about your weaknesses. – Rick Warren

The way a person speaks often reveals much about their level of humility. Humble leaders use phrases like:
> I’m sorry.
> That was my fault.
> Thank you.
> I’m listening.
> I trust you.
> Great job.

Hype never trumps hustle or humility.

Humble yourself enough to focus on others.

Power is one of the great corrupters of would-be leaders.

Character and integrity is built over time in the insignificant moments when you think no one is watching.

The people who know you the best should be the ones who respect you the most.
To get to the top and to be successful at the top are two different skills sets. – Nolan Ryan

When we lead we must continually engage in the act of self-questioning:
> When I look at the sum total of my efforts this year, do I believe I’ve done my best work?
> Have I finished everything I’ve started, or have I left piecemeal projects behind?
> Did I give in to the temptation to cut corners?
Discipline is hampered by distraction.

Leaders lead from who they are on the inside. And that is why the God who made us is so eager to remake us on the inside. – Gary Haugen

Our tendency as human being is to favor the quick over the slow, the cheap over the expensive and the easy over the difficult.

God often requires that we choose the slow, difficult and costly.

There are very few overnight successes, and most leaders who take shortcuts don’t finish well.

Influence is as much about the journey as it is about the destination.

In anonymity and obscurity is where most leaders are truly developed and made.

See where you want to be, and lead like you’re already there.

The great temptation for Christians is to allow one’s efforts for God to replace one’s journey with God.

Demand perfection from yourself, before anyone else demands it from you. Become an expert now, even before you need to be.

The attention spans of leaders are getting swept away by the deficit of attention in our culture. – Louie Giglio

In a world of skeptics and pessimists, people are more attracted than ever to leaders of integrity.

We plant sod where God wants to plant seed. He’s more interested in growing our character than having us look finished. – Bob Goff

What are your hidden weaknesses that could blow up in your face?

Create a personal board of directors made up of friends who know you and have the freedom to call you to account on anything and everything.

In order to lead well, you must avoid insulating and isolating yourself.

Who can honestly tell you when you are wrong and keep you in touch with reality?

You can’t necessarily control your reputation, but you can control your character.

The greatest threat to our influence is our tendency to read our own press clippings and protecting ourselves from honest feedback.

What kind of person are you when no one is looking?

Leadership functions on the basis of trust, and when the trust is gone, the leader soon will be. – John Maxwell

Your heart is the starting place for character, and it’s what gets God’s attention. – Andy Stanley

Character is what turns your giftedness into influence, and unleashed God’s power. – Andy Stanley


Vision is the most powerful weapon in the leader’s arsenal. – Bill Hybels

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams

When we fail to dream, to envision the potential of tomorrow, people grow desperate.

Leaders look through the windshield rather than stare in the rear-view mirror.

We will be known by the problems we solve. – Jeff Shinabarger

You can gain influence by doing something. – Jeff Shinabarger

While managers are tending the grass, leaders are peering over the hill.

To better lead twenty-somethings:
> Give them freedom with their schedules.
> Provide them projects, not a career.
> Create a family environment.
> Cause is important.
> Embrace social media.
> Accept that they are tech savvy.
> Lead each person uniquely.
> Make authenticity and honesty the standard for your corporate culture.
> Understand they are more interested in making a difference than leaving a mark.
> Give them opportunities early with major responsibility.
> Accept that they want the larger win, not the personal small gain.
> Realize they’re not about working for a personality.
> Provide opportunities for mentoring, learning and discipleship.
> Coach them and encourage them.
> Create opportunities for quality time, individually and corporately.
> Hold them accountable.
> Grasp that the sky is the limit in their minds.
> Recognize their values, not just their strengths.
> Provide a system that creates stability.

By balancing younger, more optimistic team members with older, more realistic team members, you’ll be able to strike a crucial balance where hopefulness can thrive.

To imagine things other than they are is the essence of hope. It is also the stuff of revolution. – Leonard Sweet

Strive to be a hopeful visionary, not an unrealistic dreamer.

Don’t buy into hype-centered thinking that leans on sensationalism and inflates you goals so large that people won’t take you seriously.

A true visionary operates on hope rather than hype.

Hype produces chatter but hope inspires action.

Vision-center leaders are:
> Optimistic about the future.
> Focused on the best in their people, not the worst.
> Never satisfied, but always content.
> Consumed with making tomorrow better than today.
> Accepting of change.
> Inclusive, not exclusive.
> Personally bought in.

You want everyone involved using words like”we” and “us” instead of “you”.

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to set up, cast vision, and lead with courage even when immediate pressures suffocate us.

Dream about accomplishing a project so out of your abilities that it keeps you up at night. God calls us to think big.

People won’t willingly follow you until they can see the role they play in the future you envision.


Refuse to do anything less than collaborate with people as you lead. Pull other people’s leadership into play. – Nancy Ortberg

Collaboration is integral for leaders moving forward. It is part of the framework for trading equity and value in today’s economy.

We desire to be known by what we are for, not by what we are against. That is where unity starts.

Three positive effects of collaboration:
> Collaboration creates innovation.
> Collaboration reduces unnecessary risk.
> Collaboration amplifies success.

When you collaborate with other leaders, you’ll gather more ideas and have more hands to carry them out.

You don’t have to blow out someone else’s candle to make yours shine brighter.

Some people would rather throw rocks and grenades than life preservers.

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are. – C.S. Lewis

Good contracts make good partnerships.

Collaboration is built on generosity, which is a new currency in our culture.

The most influential platforms today revolve around sharing and generosity.

The paradox of collaboration is that when you help others succeed, you almost always create a win for yourself in the process.

The old system of ‘command and contol’ is being replaced by ‘connect and collaborate.’ – Dov Seidman

Keys for collaboration and building bridges:
> Make sure expectations are clearly laid out on the front end.
> Stay adaptive, humble and accessible.
> See collaboration as a need, not just an option.
> Choose wisely.
> Be intentional in finding common areas of interest and connection.
> Make connections for others.

You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things. – Mother Teresa

Always take the chance to ‘plus’ someone on your team. Make your partner look good.


Life only moves in one direction: forward.

Sadly, few leaders today are tapping the great well of wisdom found in a mentor.

More young leaders need to put down the microphone for a moment and pick up a pen and paper and start taking notes.

If you are in your 20s or 30s, find someone much older than you who can pour into your life.

If you are an older leader, you can’t just sit around and wait to be asked (to be a mentor)… you need to pursue younger leaders to invest in.

The wisdom and experience you hold doesn’t do anyone good if it remains bottled up. It must be poured out.

Every leader – regardless of age – should have at least one mentor and should be mentoring at least one other person.

Final thoughts:
> The time has come for you to be who God has called you to be, to live out His purpose for your life.
> Never let your ambition force you to create a false self. As you lead, share the real you with others.
> Root yourself in an untamable love for God. Seek Him first and let him handle the lesser things.
> As you pursue this calling, make excellence a nonnegotiable. God deserves your best.
> When the time comes to taking a risk or make a difficult decision, push through the fear. God will sustain you.
> Let your convictions and principles steady you. Hold fast to your integrity, discipline, and humanity.
> When stress runs high and difficulties arise, keep hoping. Remember that with God on your side, a better tomorrow is possible.
> Build bridges, not walls, with those around you. There’s power in partnerships.
> And finally, don’t believe the lie that you are the center of the universe. Seek out older leaders who can help grow you, encourage you and guide you. And then pour your life into others.

While this summary hits a lot of the main points, it misses Brad’s personal stories and how he models transparency in his stories. These make reading the entire book worthwhile.




NEXT: Top quotes from the Catalyst Dallas conference.