John C. Maxwell: How to Become an Idea Catalyst

UPDATED: May 20, 2014
PUBLISHED: May 20, 2014

Mike Duke spent 16 years working for retailers that competed with Wal-Mart. So when he joined Wal-Mart’s executive team, Mike had a pretty good idea of what made the discount retailer so tough to beat.

“When you thought you had Wal-Mart pegged,” Duke once said in a magazine interview, “they’d be evolving into something else.”

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, instinctively knew that great leaders create ideas that are the key to organizational growth and success. And while the leadership has changed since Mr. Walton’s death, Wal-Mart maintains its industry leadership position because its leadership maintains its commitment to new ideas.

Such a commitment goes beyond merely coming up with ideas. Sure, leaders come up with ideas. That’s part of the job description. But if no one else generates and improves ideas, then the leader is only leading one person—himself. Great leaders are the catalysts for great ideas.

So how do you become a catalyst for ideas? Here are seven ways:

Think about the business.
Ideas come at the strangest of times, but they never come when our minds are closed to them. Great idea people always have at least one eye on the boat dock, just in case opportunity sails up for a visit.

Ask questions about the business.
Great idea people are great questioners. They strive to understand the people around them and the processes that make their organization run. They embrace what works, but they challenge the system.

Focus on potential and problems.
Great idea people focus on two areas of the business: ideas that develop more potential and ideas that reduce problems.

Know your idea people.
INJOY has an “idea room.” But we don’t invite all our employees when we want to have an idea meeting. Instead, we call 12 to 15 idea people—those who understand the particular topic and who consistently come up with great ideas.

Include your idea people.
When great idea people have an idea, the first thing they do is bring other trusted idea people together for their opinions. Don’t try to make it better yourself. The fact is, you probably already hit your limit by getting the idea! Get other like-minded people and let them jump on that idea, too.

Have high expectations.
Great idea people leave team meetings charged up, not drained, because the people around them took an idea and improved it. But if they didn’t improve it, then the team needs some changes. Your idea people need to know that you expect them to improve the idea. If they can make an idea much better, they get to come to the next meeting. If they can’t make it much better, they don’t come to another meeting.

Give credit where credit is due.
When someone makes an idea better, they deserve the credit. This is huge! People are motivated when their good work is acknowledged. Tom Peters had it right when he said, “Weed out the dullards and nurture the nuts.”

Clearly, there’s more to creating great ideas than just coming up with ideas. Creating great ideas is a process that involves many people, and those people need a leader—a catalyst who ensures that ideas, like people, mature into something special.

Are you sitting on an idea that you know would make a lasting impact? Find out how to take the next step in making a change, or “wave” of difference.

Jessica Krampe is the digital managing editor for A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Jessica has worked for news, entertainment, business and lifestyle publications. Outside of the daily grind, she enjoys happy hours, live music and traveling.