Winston Churchill is attributed with saying, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
But we cannot wait for leaders like Churchill to step up and lead us through change. The world itself has changed; it has changed the way we look at change! Constantly transforming conditions, technology and opportunities are creating more and more problems that businesses need to act on quickly in order to stay competitive and survive. And we need change leaders from within every organization to see the urgency and take that step.
One of the greatest active authorities on change leadership and management is Dr. John Kotter, Head of Research at Kotter International and the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business School, and we were thrilled to have him on the program back in February.
He spoke of great leaders throughout history and their ability to rally the troops and organize change where it was needed. Listening to him was often inspiring. We had to share just five of his finest quotes from his hour-long conversation with our host on “Do you have the chops to be a change leader?”
“A great change leader creates other change leaders.”
Dr. Kotter says when leaders come to him and ask for advice, they feel as though they’ve traveled miles down the road and done everything they could, but still haven’t seen the change they desire. But in most cases, not even a majority of the organization clearly understands the major opportunities they can seize.
This happens because leaders think of themselves as The change leader; they can’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t get it as easily as they do.
Dr. Kotter says you need to ask, “What’s the sense of urgency in your organization that something significant has to be done in order to not just survive, but to win big?” It’s critical to take a step back to ask what is the biggest opportunity you face is and how to communicate that to the entire team.
“Leadership is all about the Softer Stuff.”
Vision, communication, passion, empowerment: these are the things that win the hearts first, then the minds of men, says Dr. Kotter. The best way to do that is to create as much miniature wins as possible. Demonstrate to people that there’s momentum and a reason to get excited about change as a positive, not a negative force. Those early adopters come on board in waves when things are truly successful.
“There is no business that I’ve found yet that from the right direction that you can’t see something that people can get excited about.”
Leaders can help to create more leaders by helping others find the pride in their organization. No business is simply too boring for dramatic disruption. “Any great leader throughout history when they’re talking about their vision, they find a way to talk not just in business case terms, but find a way to talk in a way that people feel is meaningful,” Dr. Kotter said. “Everybody has this piece of them, and it’s just a matter of getting in touch with it.”
“There is a rare person that I’ve met who is playing a leadership role and helping his or her company make big strategic adjustments to deal with an increasingly turbulent world in which the organizations are always ready; they’re just not.”
There are managers who conduct questionnaires to determine their organization’s “readiness” for change. What Dr. Kotter finds is that if you think strictly in binary terms in which you’re either ready or they’re not, you’ll never be, and it will only slow you down.
“They’re not going to embrace it as fast as you want, but you’re job is to get the right process, focus and wins and make it happen despite all the challenges, natural barriers and hard wired problems,” Dr. Kotter said.
“Make the leap of faith that it is possible to deal with this, that I can be a better change leader than I have in the past and get on with it.”
Hear more inspiring quotes from Dr. John Kotter on our show, “Do you have the chops to be a change leader?”