A blueprint to lead

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

On the first page of John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do (Harvard Business School Press, 1999), the author declares that “most organizations today lack the leadership they need.” He then fills 170 pages with insights into how to solve this problem.

Kotter, a Harvard business professor, is too cerebral to preach. He doesn’t reduce everything to how-to pointers.

In the book, a sampling of his articles from 1977 to the present, Kotter emphasizes the obstacles leaders must overcome to thrive in the workplace. Among the most pressing challenges is managing organizational change while avoiding these errors:

Complacency. Kotter writes that a leader must jolt workers out of their comfort zones. That means instilling a genuine, palpable sense of urgency. For example, to generate buy-in, you need to explain to employees the dangers of increasing competition, shrinking margins, flat earnings or no revenue growth.

Top-down rule. Leaders create “guiding coalitions” that include employees at lower levels—not just top execs. Kotter finds that strong individuals can bring together diverse workers with clashing needs and empower them to participate and shape changes.

Crossed signals. For Kotter, leaders reinforce key themes repeatedly and communicate with clarity and force. Example: In discussing a routine problem, they will link the immediate solution to larger issues the company faces.

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