What Leaders Really Do

John P. Kotter

p.1: 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. 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.

p.3: More dramatic than any numbers are individual cases of real human beings who suffer under tyrants or incompetents or even well-meaning bosses whose failure to lead helps bring down the ship. The pain, broadcast loudly or suffered silently, can be huge, as people lose their jobs to incompetent reengineering or strain under the pressure of propping up a shaky bottom line.

c.f.: Management Observations

p. 9: In general, the longer a set of tactics has worked, the more oblivious we become to new contingencies. The better a hammer has served in the past, the more all new problems look like nails.

p. 10: Here I’m talking about leadership as the development of vision and strategies, the alignment of relevant people behind those strategies, and the empowerment of individuals to make the vision happen, despite obstacles. This stands in contrast with management, which involves keeping the current system operating through planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving. Leadership works through people and culture. It’s soft and hot. Management works through hierarchy and systems. It’s harder and cooler.

p. 11: The fundamental purpose of management is to keep the current system functioning. The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change, especially nonincremental change. It is possible to have too much or too little of either. Strong leadership with no management risks chaos; the organization might walk right off a cliff. Strong management with no leadership tends to entrench an organization in deadly bureaucracy.

p. 31: To predict what form their resistance might take, managers need to be aware of the four most common reasons people resist change. These include: a desire not to lose something of value, a misunderstanding of the change and its implications, a belief that the change does not make sense for the organization, and a low tolerance for change. [cf.: Stages of Commitment]

p. 35: If the analysis made by those not initiating the change is more accurate than that derived by the initiators, resistance is obviously “good” for the organization. But this likelihood is not obvious to some managers who assume that resistance is always bad and therefore always fight it.

cf.: Managing Resistance


Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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