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About the Author

John P. Kotter is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He is the Konosuke Matashusita Professor of Leadership at the Harvard Business School and was one of the youngest people in Harvard history to receive full professorship. Kotter's works include Power show more and Influence: Beyond Formal Authority, The Leadership Factor and Corporate Culture and Performance. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Dr. John Kotter of Harvard Business School by Keiradog

Works by John P. Kotter

A Sense of Urgency (2008) 447 copies
Power and Influence (1985) 73 copies
The Leadership Factor (1988) 56 copies
The General Managers (1982) 47 copies
Managing Your Boss (2008) 41 copies
The New Rules (1995) 38 copies
Power in Management (1979) 3 copies
Change Leadership (2014) 2 copies
Novas Regras, As (2010) 1 copy

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I’m doing research for something and I was encouraged to look deeper into “change management.” It’s a management trend that’s been trending for a long time. I remember back in the 1990s hearing at almost every turn “change is the new norm.” Now, that encouragement I was given was more toward looking to the internet but I like books first. Mr. Kotter seems to be thechange management guru, and the title of this is about leading and not managing, so it seems a good starting point.

This book is both dated (1996 original pub, and this, the second edition, 2012), and still relevant: “The simple insight that management is not leadership (chapter 2) is better understood today, but not nearly as well as is needed.”

Kotter starts out with identifying eight common mistakes of organizational change. I noted of the first four:
“Error #1: Allowing Too Much Complacency”
{Organizations that rest on their laurels get left behind}
“Error #2: Failing to Create a Sufficiently Powerful Guiding Coalition”
{This is wordy, and loses its impact}
“Error #3: Underestimating the Power of Vision”
{Of the first three, I don't think this is as common. If anything, "vision" is overestimated, and overused.}
“Error #4: Undercommunicating the Vision by a Factor of 10 (or 100 or Even 1,000)”
{Okay, this aspect of vision is quite true. Overall, for any changes - even ones where the concepts are socialized well - there will be some. missing communication.}

He says “Normally, people skip steps because they are feeling pressures to produce.” I wonder if people might skip sections of this because it is can be a bit academic. Still, there is a lot of value in this.

Curated notes and highlights:

“With a strong emphasis on management but not leadership, bureaucracy and an inward focus take over.”
{Ouch. And spot on.}

“After a while, one might easily conclude that the kind of leadership that is so critical to any change can come only from a single larger-than-life person.
This is a very dangerous belief.”
[...]
No one individual, even a monarch-like CEO, is ever able to develop the right vision, communicate it to large numbers of people, eliminate all the key obstacles, generate short-term wins, lead and manage dozens of change projects, and anchor new approaches deep in the organization’s culture.”
{Single point of direction, single point of failure.}

“Characteristics of an effective vision
• Imaginable: Conveys a picture of what the future will look like
• Desirable: Appeals to the long-term interests of employees, customers, stockholders, and others who have a stake in the enterprise
• Feasible: Comprises realistic, attainable goals
• Focused: Is clear enough to provide guidance in decision making
• Flexible: Is general enough to allow individual initiative and alternative responses in light of changing conditions
• Communicable: Is easy to communicate; can be successfully explained within five minutes”
{Good summary}

“I am sometimes amazed at how many people try to transform organizations using methods that look like the first two scenarios: authoritarian decree and micromanagement. Both approaches have been applied widely in enterprises over the last century, but mostly for maintaining existing systems, not transforming those systems into something better. ”
{And yet, authoritarian and micromanaging are ubiquitous.}

“While the [vision] statement does not give anything close to a detailed directive, it does provide focus ”
{Vision is an abstract goal of a future impact. Mission should be a definition of what is now. And an action plan gives the direction. }

“Vision creation can be difficult for at least five reasons [...] First, we have raised a number of generations of very talented people to be managers, not leaders or leader/managers, and vision is not a component of effective management. ”
{Focus is on management, not leadership. In the military, it is the opposite. In both, a mix of the two is necessary (with emphasis on leadership, of course.)}

“Key elements in the effective communication of vision
• Simplicity: All jargon and technobabble must be eliminated.
• Metaphor, analogy, and example: A verbal picture is worth a thousand words.
• Multiple forums: Big meetings and small, memos and newspapers, formal and informal interaction—all are effective for spreading the word.
• Repetition: Ideas sink in deeply only after they have been heard many times.
• Leadership by example: Behavior from important people that is inconsistent with the vision overwhelms other forms of communication.
• Explanation of seeming inconsistencies: Unaddressed inconsistencies undermine the credibility of all communication.
• Give-and-take: Two-way communication is always more powerful than one-way
communication.”

“If I hear the word empowerment one more time,” someone recently told me, “I think I’ll gag.”
A few years ago, I might have agreed with his reservations. Today, I don’t. I’m still not enthusiastic about using faddish words, but in this ever faster-moving world, I think the idea of helping more people to become more powerful is important.”
{good point}

“Short-Term Wins Aren’t Short-Term Gimmicks”
{Another good point}

“Cultural Change Comes Last, Not First”
{This is too seldom realized, recognized, and called out.}

“I can imagine a day not long from now when succession at the top of firms may no longer be an exercise in picking one person to replace another. Succession could be a process of picking at least the core of a team.
[…]
I can also imagine a day when big egos and snakes are eliminated from promotion lists, no matter how smart, clever, hard working, or well educated they”
{He has a good imagination. That is a change that will be long in coming.}
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Razinha | 13 other reviews | Jul 18, 2023 |
This book was recommended and later mandatory to read in our class "Management Strategy" which sounds a little bit posh, but I guess the teacher is all that matters, and it was a hell of a teacher!
This one is the one where at any age you can read it. Well...like from age 9 or smth tho. It is a fable but when you stop for a moment for thinking there is always more depth to it, and if you will make notes from this book, it is really easy to remember in your daily life through relatable and memorable people (read penguins). Yes, it is a book about penguins and it...just...awesome and crazy and the author knows it, which makes it even more fun to read.
I would categorize this book into lists if you need refreshments about managing tasks when you are working in a team or a group environment with people, doesn't matter if you leading or not. i say if you need refreshment because I will probably read it once more.
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AdamLajner | 23 other reviews | Jan 18, 2023 |
Use a fun story to walk through how to bring about needed organizational change. If you are dealing with change, it's a must read.
 
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JourneyPC | 23 other reviews | Sep 26, 2022 |
Full of platitudes, no new insights. Looks like they've read 10 management books about change, and then decided to put these in a short, fancy book. Can't understand why this is such a success book.
½
 
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deblemrc | 23 other reviews | Oct 18, 2021 |

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