Leading Change | Book Review

John Kotter’s Leading Change builds on his watershed 1994 Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail article, beginning with a preface reflecting upon his motivations for continued study on the topic.

Recommended Approach

Perhaps mimicking Kotter’s recommendation for creating urgency, try reading Chapters 10-12 first. Chapter 10, Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture, reminds us (via Drucker) that Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast. Page 157 has a terrific table reminding us why modifying group behaviors and ultimately culture, ranges from hard to extremely hard to change.

If you are ready to embark on leading significant change in your organization, or wonder why it has not worked, this book is a great reference manual.

Chapter 11 describes The Organization of the Future, summarized on page 181. Anyone whose organization largely resembles the left column of Table 11-1, Twentieth century, ought to be very nervous about the future. The right column, Twenty-first century, describes structure, systems and culture any leader should be focused on today. Finally, Chapter 12, Leadership and Lifelong Learning, outlines (via a flow chart on page 187) how to increase our capacity for future success.

Management versus Leadership

“For most of this [20th] century, as we created thousands and thousands of large organizations for the first time in human history, we didn’t have enough good managers…

… For every entrepreneur or business builder who was a leader, we needed hundreds of managers to run their ever-growing enterprises.”

(pages 28-29) Explains well why we have so many managers and so few leaders, yet Kotter informs us successful organizational change requires 70% - 90% leadership. We don’t manage change.

The result of an over managed, underfed corporate culture is summarized in an excellent diagram on page 31. Arrogance, insularity, and bureaucratic antibodies result leading to failure.

Kotter’s Eight-Step Process | Thoughts

Chapters 3 through 10 detail Kotter’s recommended approach, which forms the basis of Academy Leadership’s Leading Change workshop.

Kotter repeatedly references failed transformational efforts due to skipping early steps in the process, and in particular underestimating the need for a sustained and powerful guiding coalition (see page 58 for necessary contemporary decision making).

An effective vision statement is shown on page 80. It’s a gem, and a strong reminder we need to put a lot of thought into developing one, which also meets this rule:

“If you cannot describe your vision to someone in five minutes and get their interest, you have more work to do in this phase of a transformation process.”

For those encountering stubborn colleagues resisting change, Kotter has a great script using a winning lottery as an example (page 114).

Application | Your Personal Leadership Philosophy

Walk the talk, or Lead by Example (pages 97 – 99) reminds us continuous leadership is required. We can go further by incorporating elements of the eight-step process into our Personal Leadership Philosophy, and additionally aligning operating principles and priorities between guiding coalition members.

Finally, we should return to Chapter 12, and reflect how we may benefit from The Power of [Personal] Compounded Growth (pages 189-190), as lifelong leaders.

JE | January 2015