wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
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John Kotter (1947- )John Kotter


Harvard Business School professor and a world renowned expert in leadership and change (pictured right).


Key books

The General Managers (1982)


A study of 15 successful American managers who did not formally plan, organize, motivate and control, because of their large, informal networks of co-operative relationships with people inside and outside the organization.

Managers' conversations with people were short and disjointed with very little pre-planning.

Each manager’s success depended on detailed knowledge of the industry, technology, product, markets and competitors.


Key quote on management

General management jobs... put a person in a position where he is held responsible for a complex system which he cannot directly control and cannot entirely understand.


 John Kotter

Corporate Culture and Performance (1992), written with James Heskett (pictured right)

A strong corporate culture (strongly shared values and beliefs within an organization) can significantly increase long-term profits, if it emphasizes the continual satisfaction of customers, employees and shareholders.

But effective visionary leadership is vital to overcome any resistance to change that arises particularly when organizations are:

  • successful.
  • inwardly focused.
  • arrogant.
  • overly bureaucratic.


 Key quote on corporate culture

Cultures can be very stable over time, but they are never static... New challenges can lead to the creation of new ways of doing things.


 Key quote on the service profit chain

When employees...begin to interact with customers and their problems and needs, they often begin to value the interests of customers more highly.



Leading Change (1996)


The eight steps in transforming an organization are:


1. Establish a sense of urgency 

Kill complacency through:

  • challenging performance targets.
  • creating a crisis.
  • an open, honest and confrontational debate about how to beat competitors and satisfy customers (based upon an evaluation of competitors’ strengths and feedback from customers, employees and suppliers).


2. Assemble a leadership group

(with the position power, expertise, credibility, management and leadership skills)

Leaders and managers must lead by example and inspire:

  • change, enthusiasm and trust.
  • continual learning.
  • the achievement of common goals.


3. Create an inspiring vision

This must be:

  • imaginable and desirable.
  • feasible and clear.
  • adaptable to change.
  • easily communicated (if you can’t describe it in five minutes, forget it!)


4. Communicate clearly and succinctly

  • keep it simple.
  • use many communication methods (meetings, informal talks etc.).
  • keep on repeating the message.
  • explicitly address inconsistencies in the message.
  • listen and be listened to.


5. Empower people to act creatively on the vision 

  • remove obstacles in people’s paths (e.g. poor structure and systems),
  • give people training and any information they require.
  • employ empowering managers.
  • encourage risk taking and new ways of thinking and acting.


6. Plan for and create short-term, visible performance improvements

People need encouragement because real transformation takes time.

So reward employees who make improvements possible.


7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change

  • don’t declare victory too soon.
  • recruit and develop quality people.
  • re-invigorate the change process with new projects, themes and change agents (leaders of change).


8. Inculcate change in the corporate culture and management

Change will be effective and permanent only when it becomes:

  • a way of life.
  • linked to the pursuit of customer satisfaction.


Don’t skip any of these steps and resist pressure for quick results.

Be patient – the whole process can take years, particularly making change a way of life.


Key quotes on change and business success

By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers and employees.

Transformations always fail to achieve their objectives when complacency levels are high.



What Leaders Really Do (1999) – a collection of six Harvard Business Review articles


Leaders and managers are vital to

  • successful change. 
  • profitability.


Managerial work involves:

  • adapting to the requirements of each situation
  • developing a complex web of relationships with people inside and outside the organization.


To cope with increasing change, managers need leadership skills:

  • developing vision.
  • formulating and implementing strategy.
  • inspiring and empowering others.


So leadership is different from management (that makes the organization’s systems work through planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling and problem solving”).


Key quotes on leadership and management

Effective leaders help others to understand the necessity of change and to accept a common vision of the desired outcome.

 More change requires more leadership.

Leadership works through leadership and culture...Management works through hierarchy and systems.


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