Book Review – Leading Change by John P. Kotter

Author: John P. Kotter

Book Rating: 2 out of 5 head tilts

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Even though the book is over 20 years old, I wanted to read it anyway.  John Kotter is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on change management.  The book was also revised in 2012, so I was anticipating some ideas on how technology can speed up change.  It didn’t.  It really just had a new preface that reassured me that the information is still relevant.  And while I agree, I only do so for large corporations.  The book really isn’t appropriate for small business owners that want to make change.  In fact, I think it might even slow the process down.

Small businesses are like speed boats, large institutions are like tankers.  As a small business owner, we can pivot and make change must faster.  This book is dedicated to how to get tankers to make change.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t get any value.  I did.  Clearly the man has a brilliant mind and understands in great detail all the nuance of making change in the world of big  business.  But was the juice worth the squeeze for a small business owner?  I don’t think so; however, here were some of my favorite takeaways:

“Management makes a system work.  It helps you do what you know how to do.  Leadership builds systems or transforms old ones.”

He touched on this distinction a few times and it hit home for me, particularly because I, like many small business owners struggle with what my true identity in my company is all about.  The more time I spend in merely functional roles in my company I am a manager.  The more time I spend in vital roles in my company I am a leader.  This was a good reminder for me  to stay vital.

“A useful rule of them:  Whenever you cannot describe the vision driving a change initiative in 5 minutes or less and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, you are in for trouble.”

I liked this thought because I’m all about making sure when you make a pitch – either to customers, prospects, or employees, you need to make sure it’s a simple and concise as possible.

“Whenever smart and well-intentioned people avoid confronting obstacles, they disempower employees and undermine change.”

This one hurt a little, because I’m guilty of trying to implement change in my business and then don’t hold my team as accountable as I should.  That needs to stop – for the benefit of everyone involved.

The book was a hard read.  Kotter is clearly an academic, and writes as such.  I like books that speak directly to me in first person, “There are 3 things you’ll need to do in order to succeed…”  This book has a bit of that, but most of the time you’ll have to make the connections on your own when he refers to important topics by 3rd person: “When one finds themselves in this position…” or “Many companies struggle with…” and that kind of writing tends to let my mind wander much more.

I think if you run a large company, and it’s dysfunctional, this should be a required read; otherwise, it will just be good info to have in the back of your mind when you eventually, if you will eventually, need it.

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