Harvard Business School professor John Kotter is a
world-class authority on change leadership, perhaps best known for his
eight-step model for leading successful change. His vision is, Millions Leading, Billions Benefiting.
His body of work, which provides extensive help to those who lead
change, matches his farsighted, noble intentions. Each of his eighteen
books makes substantive contributions to the field, with powerful
stories from his exposure to hundreds of organizations illustrating his
findings. I have relied on his stories, techniques, and insights, many
times in my work.
What motivates Kotter himself? I spoke to him on this and here’s how
the conversation went:
Seth: You appear to
have a sense of urgency yourself.
John: There is no question that I’ve got a sense of urgency. I think in
terms of thirty years, but I get up every morning to figure out what I
can do today to push things along. I have big aspirations and I believe
(a) they’re possible, but (b) let’s face it, you can drop dead
tomorrow. So I play it both ways. The only way you’re going to work on
big aspirations is by taking a long view. But if you’re going to be
realistic about things, you might only have two days . . . so, use them!
Seth: Your book, A Sense of Urgency, is written for
leaders in organizations. Yet several times you point out that
maintaining urgency is good for the individual and the world too.
John: That is what I believe and what I have found. Some people feel
they are being pressed to provide more leadership by their superiors.
They are not convinced they can make much of a difference.
If you dig into what most people call urgency,
it is a frenetic, energy-draining, meeting-to-meeting,
taskforce-to-taskforce, activity-and-not-productivity behavior. It is
not helping them at all. But it looks like a sense of urgency. It
couldn’t be more different. It is as radically different as complacency
is from real urgency. Getting that clear in my own head was an
My messages are (a) you can make a difference in your organization—more
than you think sometimes—and (b) collective differences have a big
impact on society. Sometimes even single individuals have this kind of
There is no question that the greatest positive impact from a person
demonstrating leadership is on him or her.