Leading Change by John P Kotter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that changed my life. It got me interested in things like organisational psychology, change, management, and leadership, things I’d previously never considered worthy of my attention.

Kotter’s main thesis is to set out an 8-step structure for organisational transformation, a structure that maps clearly onto Lewin’s Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze change management model.

The main value in Lewin’s model is the two ends: unfreeze and refreeze, these are the phases that get least attention as most organisations simply rush to change things (without unfreezing) and then fail to embed the new way of doing things in the culture (refreeze).

This is why change management is not project management – the change project is the easy, the bit in the middle, but achieving organisational change is the whole piece.


Kotter’s examples tend to be more glamorous macro-change – entire organisations needing to do something (e.g. become more customer-orientated) – but the structure is has lessons for smaller changes too, although less so.

It reads a little dated now, the style and examples are of their time (1996), and reading about anything from the ancient pre-Internet age makes it feel closer to the industrial revolution than the digital one.

That’s a stylistic quibble, and maybe a newer edition is more up-to-date (mine is from 1996); but more importantly than that is the model he proposes which fully stands up.

Having worked on several change projects – some small, some large – it’s easy to spot where steps in Kotter’s process got skipped or were left incomplete and how this came back to haunt the change effort.

I particularly liked the last couple of chapters which were about how twenty-first century organisations and leaders need to be; much more collaborative and humble, open and willing to be challenged, dedicated to lifelong learning, and with the tenacity and determination to achieve the right change – this turned out to be true, although still frustratingly rare.

A good book, and an essential read for change managers, leaders and anyone else hoping to have a successful career.



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