Change Leaders: Why Should Anyone Trust Your Vision? John Kotter & Harvard Business Review

After reading the complete, updated post of this interview with Harvard professor emeritus & change thought leader John Kotter, I’m again reminded of the classic quote below:


A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves. ~ Lao-tzu


Imagine if new, agile, market savvy change happened that way.

There are many trends about change management that I imagine Dr. Kotter has seen in his long career.  As I prepare for an Association of Change Management Practitioners conference next week, including editing new videos with change leaders, I wanted to share some of John Kotter’s materials here.  Below is a bulleted, simplified excerpt, that highlights some common assumptions about how leaders approach change.

John KotterJohn Kotter, photo by Deb Nystrom, ACMP conference

Excerpted from HBR:

Recently, an Irish Times reporter interviewed me on the changes currently taking place in Ireland’s finance industry (the nation’s financial regulator had just announced the $39.3 billion price tag of the Anglo Irish Bank bailout). Clearly, much is going to have to change in the banks and how the government deals with them.

But there’s a buy-in problem, as the reporter pointed out. “Why would subordinates trust management to develop a change vision in a situation like this, when management got the company into a mess?

…John Kotter:  But let me address just one issue here.


The conventional decide-execute model handles large changes very poorly.


The reporter’s questions were based on an assumption that the way good decisions are made and implemented …

(1) top management analyze the situation or ask a consultant to;

(2) they create a plan and tell the troops to execute it, or… “sell” it, or at least aggressively communicate it to their troops;

(3) the troops take the direction and execute.

— it’s not close to how the best organizations handle change today.

The conventional decide-execute model handles large changes very poorly.

[Dr. Kotter] has written much about this (starting with a book called Leading Change), but for now let’s just say that success comes from a lot more people getting involved in the decision-making process, and not just by sticking them on a committee — I mean really engaging them so that they are interested and want to be involved.

If done right, better data is brought into a decision, and by engaging people you have already set things up to make buy-in easier.

When it comes to large-scale change in our increasingly diverse and fast-moving world, we need to engage people in the decision-making process, to get their buy-in and to get the job done well.


Take action on your change leader interests. Email me via if you are interested in adaptive change and / or change leadership news and views 

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Published by dnrevel

Change & transition, Leadership team & organization development. Executive Leadership team coach. My LinkedIn profile:

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