John P. Kotter, who has authored 18 books throughout his career, hit a home run with Leading Change. This book was initially published in 1996 and republished with updates in 2012. Kotter is well known for his work in change management, as well as in the field of leadership. He is a co-founder of Kotter International as well as his presence at Professor Emeritus at Harvard’s Business School.

Leading Change is not just a step by step guide to tell you how to institute change. It is a text that teaches the teacher. Kotter describes a useful process as well as details the emotions behind change. The book describes the differences between management and leadership. Management is a function of making systems work, while Leadership is what is necessary to build the systems, or change existing ones.

Eight Mistakes

Kotter begins with descriptions on why companies or organizations fail, in his “eight mistakes”:

  • • Allowing too much complacency or lack of urgency
    • Failure to create a guiding coalition with enough power and available resources
    The lack of a clear vision
    • Not communicating that vision (and getting buy-in of it)
    • Allowing roadblocks to block the vision
    • Not recognizing short term, or smaller wins
    • Declaring success too soon
    • Failure to fully establish changes within the organizational culture

He further suggests that correcting these eight mistakes is the process and the order in which the process works best. That is if you want to enact a productive and lasting change. Kotter states “skipping a single step or getting too far ahead without a solid base almost always creates problems” (p. 26).

Management vs Leadership

This may be my favorite section of Leading Change. Kotter describes management as a process of keeping systems and people operating smoothly. He recognizes key terms and processes used by managers which include; budgets, staffing, problem-solving and controlling. Management is used to “produce a degree of predictability” (p. 29).

Leadership on the other hand is a process of creating a picture of the future. This picture requires the alignment of the forces that are necessary to create that future. It is about communicating that vision, then providing the inspiration, rather than motivation to gain alignment of the vision. Leadership is used to produce change!

Part ll The How to Section

This is the section of the text that describes the process he utilizes to develop and implement his 8-stage process. It is the “how-to” portion of the book and should be read with your own organization in mind. It is well written and detailed enough to allow the reader to apply the process to their own unique circumstances. This section identifies the order, the process, and the purpose of each step.

Leadership and Lifelong Learning

The final chapter is devoted to the implications of change and the process of this in the 21st century. He states without equivocation that the key to developing and sustaining a successful organization in the future is LEADERSHIP. Leadership that not only comes from the top of the hierarchy but throughout the organization. There is a leader in every level of the organization and these individuals must be nurtured and developed.

The creation of a learning organization is key. A learning organization is one where we constantly learn and grow at every level. In order to do this, we at the top must listen to the ideas of those doing the work. Beginning with the personal history and capacities of the worker combined with their drive leads to lifelong learning, which in return increases their skills and abilities, and builds the organization’s competitive capacity.


Kotter has earned his reputation as a thought leader. This work provides the basis for transformation from management to leadership. It details the psychology behind Leading Change, then provides guidance on the process. It clearly defines why the structure is important for an organization. I found the book very clear and concise. I highly recommend reading Leading Change to anyone who runs or even works within an organization.