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John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do (Harvard Business Review Book) 1st Edition

23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0875848976
ISBN-10: 0875848974
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Editorial Reviews Review

"After conducting fourteen formal studies and more than a thousand interviews, directly observing dozens of executives in action, and compiling innumerable surveys, I am completely convinced that most organizations today lack the leadership they need," contends John P. Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School. "And the shortfall is often large. I'm not talking about a deficit of 10%, but of 200%, 400%, or more in positions up and down the hierarchy," he writes in the opening essay to John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do, a collection of his most notable articles on the topic for the Harvard Business Review. Kotter isn't known to pull punches, and these pieces--falling into two categories, those concerned with "Leadership and Change" and those focusing on "Dependency and Networks"--are no exception. The articles in the book sensibly point out the difference between management and leadership; they advocate setting a direction rather than planning and budgeting, and motivating people rather than controlling them. They are tied together effectively by the aforementioned new essay, in which Kotter presents his "Ten Observations About Management Behavior" to summarize the concepts he has developed over a 30-year career. --Howard Rothman


"Offers a convenient one-volume resource to this noted expert's views on leadership." -- Choice, October 1999

"This book is thankfully short on theory and is instead filled with practical, often common-sensical, advice. For anyone who wants to be a leader when they grow up, Kotter's book is required reading." -- CIO, June 15, 1999

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvard Business Review Book
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (March 18, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875848974
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875848976
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Regarded by many as the authority on leadership and change, John P. Kotter is a New York Times best-selling author, award winning business and management thought leader, business entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and Harvard Professor. His ideas, books, speeches, and company, Kotter International, have helped mobilize people around the world to better lead organizations, and their own lives, in an era of increasingly rapid change.

Professor Kotter's MIT and Harvard education laid the foundation for his life long passion for educating, motivating and helping people. He became a member of the Harvard Business School faculty in 1972. By 1980, at the age of 33, Kotter was given tenure and a full Professorship - the youngest person ever to have received that award at the Business School. Over the past thirty years, his articles in The Harvard Business Review have sold more reprints than any of the hundreds of distinguished authors who have written for that publication during that time period. Most recently, his HBR article "Accelerate!", won the 2012 McKinsey Award for the world's most practical and groundbreaking thinking in the business/management arena. Today, he continues to deliver seminars in Harvard Business School's Executive Education Programs, which are sometimes regarded as life changing by his students.

Kotter has authored 18 books to date - twelve of them bestsellers. His books have reached millions, and have been printed in over 150 foreign language editions. Arguably his most popular book, Our Iceberg is Melting, was released in 2006. This New York Times bestseller helped launch to a large audience the 8-step philosophy behind Kotter International. Written as an allegory, it is a simple, yet unforgettable story about a group of penguins on a melting iceberg and the changes they undertake to survive and thrive amidst an unclear future. This story connects with a broad range of people needed to effect major organizational transformations in an easily understood, clear way. Kotter International aims to do the same. Dr. Kotter is the founder, and Head of Research at Kotter International. Other widely read books include "A Sense of Urgency", "The Heart of Change" and "Leading Change", which Time magazine selected in 2011 as one of the 25 most influential business management books ever written. Professor Kotter is currently working on writing his 19th book.

To supplement his books and expand on his ideas, Kotter has released several videos on his teachings, most of which are accessible to anyone interested in his work via YouTube. His "Succeeding in a Changing World" video was awarded Best Video Training Product of the Year by Training Media Review and also won a Telly Award. His YouTube videos have been watched by hundreds of thousands and continue to be a helpful tool for anyone from students to high-level executives in the business world.

Kotter's research and pursuits in education, business and writing over the past 35 years have earned the respect of his peers, helped transform organizations around the world, touched countless lives, and still inspires others to adopt his methods and spread the word. He continues to work tirelessly to achieve the goal of "millions leading, billions benefiting".

Professor Kotter is a proud father of two and resides in Cambridge, MA with his wife, Nancy Dearman.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Bill Godfrey on December 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Six of Kotter's articles published between 1979 and 1997 are prefaced by a substantial introduction under the title of Leadership at the Turn of the Century. The six articles are arranged in two groups of three, the first three grouped under Leadership and Change and the second under the heading Dependency and Networks. The first part contains the famous articles "What Leaders Really Do" and "Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail", which was the article behind the author's subsequent book "Leading Change".
I seem to be in a minority in thinking that Kotter's views of leadership are over-rated. Although his commentary recognises complexity, his prescriptions seem to me to be instrumental, linear and unduly inwardly focused. He takes a very analytical view of an intensely human art. One of the central features of successful leadership is passion, and another is a strong and well articulated sense of values. The author recognises both, but does not appear to be engaged by them. They appear to be treated as merely two more ingredients in the mix. Above all, it does not ask the questions that are becoming so dominant - questions about societal values, about balancing the need for profit with issues of sustainability and even about the role of the corporation in a globalised world.
Having said that, there is a lot of good material available. His '8 steps' are sufficiently well known not to need repetition, and the article "What Leaders Really Do" is a good summary of the distinction between leadership and management concerns.
The introduction is written largely around ten 'observations', which add up to saying that leadership and management are different, that high complexity and high rates of change make leadership increasingly important, with a large part of the leadership role being concerned with building vision, providing inspiration and building networks of relationship.
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I look at the other reviewers comments and realize that there's another perspective. One that I think I may share with others who are not the other reviewers.
There's a niche of people out there who are "intuitive / analytical" people. The works of other leadership / management "gurus" seem, well, mystical or overwhelmingly positive.
I personally understand and practice the passion of leadership but personally had a hard time understanding the framework of human relationships and motivations that lead to most management hierarchies. In traditional management hierarchies, passionate people are also labelled as "over the edge". immature, unrealistic.
From an analytical engineering / scientist approach, what occurs in executive management just doesn't seem to make sense. Frankly, I'm blown away by the rampant "peter principle" in executive management. I've not understood why I who have significant leadership skills haven't made it into "the higher echelons".
John Kotter is the first author I've encountered who has been able to layout for me the framework of human interactions. He's the first author who feels to me like he is looking over my shoulder giving me useful guidance, not just pumping me up.
The article on "Leading Change, Why Transformation Efforts Fail" included in the book landed in my lap at a time when I'm attempting to lead cultural changes.
The chapter on "Managing and Power" helped me understand how my independent / contra-dependent leanings might actually be hindering me in a management hierarchy of over dependent managers.
I've gotten more condensed information from Kotter than from any other source to date.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on February 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In a long working career I have observed numerous instances of the high management manage companies with very few examples of them leading the company somewhere. I worked for Univac for instance, saw them merge with Burroughs, and watched as they turned two five billion dollar companies into one six billion dollar (with a loss in 2006 of almost $300 million). I watched Digital Equipment completely misunderstand the impact of the PC and go from a major player to be part of Compaq, then part of HP.

While this was happening, Microsoft and Intel were truly exercising the leadership that took the computer world through what Andy Grove (of Intel) called an inflection point.

This book is a collection of six essays. The first three discuss leadership. The second three discuss the management aspect. It's a quick easy read, and while there is little practical 'do it this way' advice, the overall impact is just what a true leader needs.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on second thought because I was also buying "Leading Change" by Kotter. However, I picked up this book and could not put it down. As a long-time leader, this book validates much of what I already know and do. However, it also brings a lot of insight into the differences between leadership and management. The author really analyzes the complexity and interdependency and interrelationships that are faced by, and must be overcome or managed by leaders and managers. I liked what and how Kotter says it in this book that I bought one for each of my managers (I'm a CEO). I am hoping that this easy-to-read, and understandable book brings a lot of insight to them. I highly recommend this book to all current leaders and managers, and anyone hoping to go into leadership or management or both.
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