This article explores the three phases of leadership agility. The capacity to be an agile leader is critical in an environment that is rapidly changing.

The framework I use comes from the work of Bill Joiner. His Leadership Agility framework guides individuals and organizations to understand and develop leadership agility in today’s rapidly changing and complex business environment.

This model identifies three levels of leadership agility: the Expert Leader, the Achiever Leader, and the Catalytic Leader. Each level represents a different set of skills, competencies, and mindsets required for effective leadership in various contexts. Most leaders begin as domain Experts and, as they grow, move to become Achiever Leaders and then, possibly, Catalytic Leaders.

The first phase of leadership agility is the  expert leader.

The Expert Leader

Expert Leaders are highly knowledgeable and skilled in their specific domain or area of expertise. They are typically subject matter experts who excel in technical or functional roles. Expert Leaders are adept at solving complex problems within their domain and are highly valued for their deep expertise.

However, Expert Leaders may struggle when faced with situations that require a broader perspective, collaboration, or adaptability beyond their specific area of expertise. They may have a tendency to rely on their technical knowledge and experience to make decisions, which can limit their ability to see the bigger picture or consider alternative viewpoints.

The second phase of leadership is the achiever leader.

The Achiever Leader

Achiever Leaders, on the other hand, possess a broader skill set and mindset that enables them to navigate complex challenges and lead teams effectively. Achiever Leaders are goal-oriented, results-driven, and focused on continuous improvement. They are skilled at managing projects, driving performance, and inspiring others to achieve their full potential.

Achiever Leaders are able to leverage their expertise while also embracing collaboration, flexibility, and innovation. They are comfortable taking risks, adapting to change, and leading in dynamic environments. Achiever Leaders excel at driving organizational success and delivering tangible outcomes.

The third phase of leadership is the catalytic leadership.

The Catalytic Leader

Catalytic Leaders represent the highest level of leadership agility in the Joiner Model. Catalytic Leaders are visionary, strategic, and transformative. They possess the ability to inspire and mobilize people towards a shared vision or purpose.

Catalytic Leaders are skilled at leading change, driving innovation, and creating a culture of learning and continuous improvement. They are comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity, and thrive in disruptive environments.

The most Catalytic Leaders are adept at building high-performing teams, fostering collaboration, and driving organizational transformation. They are able to think systemically, anticipate trends, and shape the future of their organizations.

To determine the right level leader based on task or outcome goal, it is essential to consider the nature of the challenge, the context in which the leader is operating, and the desired outcome.

For tasks that require deep technical expertise and precision, an Expert Leader may be most suitable. Expert Leaders are best equipped to handle complex problems within their domain and deliver specialized solutions.

Achiever Leaders are well-suited for tasks that require strategic planning, goal setting, and performance management. Achiever Leaders can drive results, motivate teams, and execute plans effectively.

However, for tasks that demand cross-functional collaboration, strategic thinking, and transformative change, a Catalytic Leader may be more effective. Catalytic Leaders excel at leading innovation, driving organizational change, and creating a culture of agility and adaptability.

Expert Leaders, Achiever Leaders, and Catalytic Leaders each bring unique skills, competencies, and mindsets to the table, and understanding the differences between these levels can help organizations leverage the right level leader for the task at hand.


The Joiner Model of Leadership Agility provides a valuable framework for understanding and developing leadership agility at different levels.

To determine the right level leader for a specific task or outcome goal, it is important to consider the complexity of the challenge, the level of uncertainty involved, and the leadership skills required to address the situation effectively.

Understanding the differences between Expert, Achiever, and Catalytic Leaders, organizations can develop a comprehensive leadership development strategy that aligns with their goals and objectives.

Actively developing a diverse leadership pipeline that encompasses all three phases of leadership agility enables organizations to build a resilient and adaptive leadership culture that is equipped to thrive in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape.

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