Leading Change

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In Leading Change (2012), long-time Harvard business professor John P. Kotter outlines his influential process to establish and secure permanent changes that will make any organization more efficient, successful, and competitive.

Bringing change to an organization often entails high stakes. Success can revitalize a business and unlock new potential, but failure can doom a firm to years of stagnation. The quality and commitment of leadership is what makes the difference.

Efforts to transform an organization often fail because of common pitfalls. These might include lack of a clear vision for change, inadequate communication about how the change will be implemented, or management’s inattention to a resistant or unresponsive staff. Successful leaders bring creativity and vision to these challenges. They have strategies for inspiring their teams to overcome a business world that is volatile, fiercely competitive, and increasingly interconnected.

During the boom years of the mid-twentieth century, American workers were trained to acquire and refine management skills for planning projects, designing budgets, and coordinating personnel. Upper-level management prized these skills in internally focused, strictly hierarchical organizations. But the American workplace has evolved away from hierarchy and structure. Although managerial skills still have an important role to play, leading an organization through important changes now requires a broader outlook and new skills. A visionary leader is open to risk, brings bold ideas, and plans ambitious goals over a long timeline. These are qualities and behaviors that all shareholders in change, not just top executives, should cultivate to support a project’s success.

Change brings with it the risk of failure but also supplies an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of leadership and its power to influence others. A methodical process can give anyone the tools required to lead a successful transformation and ensure long-term stability.

The key insights for this book are:

  1. Establishing an appropriate level of urgency is critical to confronting outdated practices and driving change forward.
  2. Creating a dedicated team with enough power to guide a project is necessary to ensure change gets off the ground and remains on pace.
  3. Grounding change in a clear and compelling vision and strategy propels the effort past early resistance.
  4. To keep those involved focused and motivated, it is necessary to communicate a vision for desired change frequently and effectively.
  5. Clearly identifying and removing barriers that hinder the empowerment of workers helps to align their efforts with the vision for change.
  6. Fostering indisputable successes in the short term guarantees that change stays on track.
  7. Building on gains to secure more wins broadens the success and strengthens the impact of change.
  8. Ensuring that the push for change is embedded in the organization’s culture is essential for lasting transformation. 

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