Listen to Understand Millennials (and Others) by Stephen Hudak

One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  In a Forbes online article, Frances McIntosh wrote[1]:

By creating an environment where we listen to understand, we create a space where people feel safe to share more freely (and often more creatively), which allows them to work smarter instead of harder. Just as embracing diversity, when we listen to understand, we learn new things and grow ourselves. How could this not support us in our own professional and personal lives?

McIntosh also notes earlier in the article “Millennials want to be heard.”  Providing an encouraging environment where free and easy, and non-judgmental discussion is allowed is required not only for millennials, but for all employees.  This builds trust.  I am a child of the 1960s where the mantra was “Children should be seen and not heard.”  Today’s child seldom has known that environment.  My granddaughter just turned fourteen.  She’s not considered a millennial, but is just slightly removed from that generation and was born to a world where communication is non-stop.  She’s done an informal Myers-Briggs survey and is an “INFP.”  She’s an outgoing child, but needs her alone time to recharge her introverted side.  Millennials are more aware of themselves and their world than I ever was at their age.  While I was trading baseball cards, she’s reading Psychology books and studying Latin.

Listen (2)

Technology has provided information so much easier that previous generations.  People have many ideas (and opinions) thrown at them.  They need to be able to express their own.

Development Dimensions International (DDI) has a Key Principle that goes “Listen and Respond with Empathy”.  Listen to your workers before you respond.  You may think you know the answer, but make certain you are hearing the real question.

[1] From: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/11/29/five-ways-millennials-make-us-better-leaders/#299169187903

We Are Moving!


Stephanie Does It Again!

Category Of One Service


Today was one of those oddly pleasant days full of little delightful deeds. After enduring delayed flights and the usual airport nonsense, I requested an UBER. Michael arrived in his car covered in military support stickers complete with an eagle on the hood. I hopped in to the Star-Spangled Banner playing. I hesitated to sit as I felt the need to come to attention.
Michael told me and signed that he is deaf. We communicated as best we could and after a rain-drenched drive I checked in to the hotel.

In my room, on the desk, was a huge tote bag/cooler. A card from Stephanie welcomed me back. I held a training session at this hotel a year ago this past spring and blogged about the nice little easter basket Stephanie had placed in the room. I chuckled and thought, “Ah, Stephanie wants me to blog/brag about this place again.”

The Twix bars are gone. The water is going. The tote-cooler will come in handy and one day be lost, but Stephanie’s second-mile service will be remembered and retold in future leadership classes.
What an excellent start to this week!

Communication in e-Learning and Other Communities

Three Types of Communication in eLearning and Other Communities by Stephen Hudak


Three types of communication recognized by Haythornthwaite[1] in effective eLearning communities are content-related, planning of tasks, and social support.  Using a constructivist approach, all activities should be related to the student’s learning experience.  These three types of communication are critical to what I need to be doing in offering a blended-learning approach to our Product and Engineering software training.


In communication the method must match the message, in other words I would not send a lengthy email message with many instructions.  Each type of communication allows for the transfer of information in various ways in my training position. Following is the typical flow of one of my basic Product and Engineering software classes with the various methods and communication types:

Typical Product and Engineering Communication Types

Topic Delivery Method Communication Type
1.       Class Announcement ·         Email brochure, in-face promotion by District Managers Content-related
2.       Student registers ·         GoToTraining registration provides reply email with pre-class webinar link and optional files to download prior to webinar. Content-related
3.       Basic Product Introduction ·         Email with upcoming agenda and brief reading and video assignment/online, self-paced eLearning modules. Content-related
4.       Basic Product Introduction and Software Demonstration ·         Pre-class webinar using GoToTraining, including discussion, quizzes, break-out rooms.  Webinar is recorded for reference. Content-related; Social Support, Planning of tasks
5.       Follow-up email ·         more instruction (including recording of our webinar and pre-class homework) Content-related; Social Support, Planning of tasks
6.       Pre-class Software exercise ·         Self-paced homework exercise due before first day of class.  Email, phone support as needed by student.  Video help available. Content-related, social support
7.       In-class (regional, usually in a hotel banquet room) ·         Discussion of previous material and hands-on use of software developing a wide-range of building design exercises.

·         Typical process is “Demo, Discuss, Do”.  I talk about the software features, I demonstrate them on the computer, the students do them on their own (with team exercises for sharing and personal reinforcement of knowledge), we resume to discuss what we’ve done.

Content-related (very heavily), social support, planning of tasks
8.       Follow-up email ·         With more video links and extra material available to enhance learning. Content-related; Social Support, Planning of tasks
9.       Follow up letter ·         Letter contains class photo, graduation certificate, and hand-written letter of thanks. Social support
10.    Follow-up webinar ·         4-6 weeks after completion of in-class training we hold a “check-up” webinar to see how the students are doing and to offer some more advanced material. Content-related; Social Support, Planning of tasks
11.    Webinar “Boot Camps” ·         5-7 times a year I hold a “Webinar Boot Camp” which are a series of topical sessions, 45-minutes each day, over 4-days. Content-related
12.    Social Media ·         Private Facebook group for students for sharing of new information, reminders, good news, contests, etc.

·         Twitter for sending of quick announcements

·         LinkedIn for creating awareness of products and providing positive messages

Content-related; Social Support (heavily), Planning of tasks


The benefits (importance) of each are:

Content-related: Provide relevant information and knowledge with our products to help our student-customers be successful in their work environment.  Customers can give and receive a timely response.

Planning of tasks: student-customers have a clear understanding of why they are coming to class (clear objectives) and what benefits they will receive.  Team exercises allow for a low-pressure activity and for the sharing of information.  It has been said, “If you want to learn something, teach it.”  I love seeing the enjoyment of someone sharing information to their peers and how it is well-received.

Social support: Emotional support, low-stress training environment for the learning of new things.  Many students come off of a field crew and have little computer experience.  The older students, often, know the product but are not comfortable with the computer input.  The younger students have been raised with technology, don’t fear the computer, but sometimes don’t understand and appreciate their results.  Teaming them up in class helps both.  Our social media, especially our private Facebook group, is very informal.  I’ve held Christmas coloring contests for my student’s children, have given prizes of watercolors and leggings for spouses and significant others.  I try to have something for the families as well as the student.



Playful Innovation

Playful Innovation by Stephen Hudak

How does a company get the work done while allowing time for play?  The online blog, The Muse, has some unique suggestions to try.[1]  Among them are my favorites:Work is a dirty four-letter word…or so many feel.  Play is another four-letter word…better accepted.  Innovation has, well, it doesn’t matter how many letters it has, what’s important is that Work + Play = Innovation.

  • Surround yourself with Inspiration: Make your work area fun, inviting – make it YOU!  Many companies limit what can be displayed in an open work-setting and suggests doing this on Pinterest where you can go to get reminded and inspired.
  • Ban things: This interesting concept consists of considering words, procedures, etc. that you presently employ and consider the ramifications.  Early in my career a manager asked for a report at the end of the week.  With my travel schedule I used to complete this on Friday afternoon or Saturday. After a few months of religiously doing this and never hearing a word, I stopped.  Time went by and still no word.  I was wasting precious family time on busy-work.
  • Fuel up on creativity: Stop checking your phone and email first thing in the morning. Do something different.  Read something creative, Listen to an inspirational podcast.  Watch a TedTalk.
  • Get out of the office[2]: “Make a habit of stepping outside even if it’s just to walk around the block. As you stroll, make a point to notice things. If you need some discipline on your inspiration hunt, make a game of it and deliberately hunt for things that begin with the letter A on the first day, B the second, and so on. Your mind will start connecting dots between what you see and the problems you left back at the office. That’s the beauty of our subconscious.” This one was too good not to note word-for-word!  Working in a cubicle, an office with no windows, a hotel conference room can stifle creativity.  I’ve been guilty of this numerous times.  I’ve come to the end of a training sessions and realize that with answering questions during breaks and checking email at lunch, I’ve gone an entire day and never stepped outside.  Just a few minutes of fresh air, seeing the sun, hearing the birds, can revive and spark creativity and innovation.

Note the cost of these tips – next to nothing, but the benefits can be astounding to your well-being and the company’s growth.

Work plus Play (2)

In a 2016 lecture titled “In Praise of Boredom”[3], Maria Konnikova tells of a psychological study where students were asked to sit in a room and do absolutely nothing.  They had no cell phones, no technology, nothing – except for a device that provided electric shocks to themselves.  Over half of the students administered shocks to themselves rather than just still for ten minutes.  Technology has made us this way in many aspects.  The prospects of doing nothing can be frightening, especially to the younger generations.

Konnikova notes that the default mode network of our brain becomes incredibly active when we do nothing.  This part of the brain leads to creative insights and thus innovative thoughts are more likely to occur.  She states: “Insight is what happens when we give ourselves time to be bored, time to do nothing.”[4]

The default mode network becomes inactive when we are busy doing various things and when we try to multi-task.  When we do nothing we start thinking, planning, creating.  I carry a small notebook with me wherever I go as ideas often come when I’m sitting at the airport, on a plane, walking to a class, and must be written down before I become busy once again.

Society is making us less tolerant of boredom.  We are constantly bombarded by 24-hour news, social media that sucks us in, makes us angry or leads us away from what we consider important.  When was the last time you say without the television blaring, without your cell phone in your hand, even without a book?

Start today.  Take just five minutes to begin.  Have some paper handy to note your thoughts.  See where your brain takes you.  See what creativity and innovation may arise.  Praise productive boredom.



[1] From: https://www.themuse.com/advice/10-ways-you-can-innovate-at-work-every-single-dayno-matter-how-boring-your-job-title

[2] IBID

[3] From: https://youtu.be/plUvDGDeIrI

[4] IBID

Trust vs. Communication

Trust vs. Communication by Stephen Hudak

Trust in any relationship is critical.  For a leader being trustworthy is, perhaps, the most important characteristic.  I would trust a decision from a trustworthy leader even if I wasn’t completely convinced it was the proper course of action.  On the other hand, someone who is not trustworthy will always keep me reserved in my actions, even if it is a sound plan as I will keep doubt in the back of my mind.

I had a former co-worker (in a higher position than me) tell me something in an email.  I did not think this was the best plan, but I did as he wished.  Later, when it failed, he tried to blame myself and others, but I was wise enough to keep his original email and sent is back to him and others.  I’m still waiting for his apology some 10-years later.

Seriously, I should feel as if I need to keep such email.  It makes me act in a negative and non-useful manner when this energy could be applied better.

Can trust exist without a great communicator?

I think the key word in the question is “great” communicator.  When I think of “great” communicators I think of Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  All are recognized as great communicators and leaders.  I also think of Calvin Coolidge, Silent Cal, who was not as flashy or spectacular as the others, yet was very effective as a leader.

Trust can be “positional” or “competency-based” as in I trust my doctor to treat me for heart problem, yet I would not want her to work on my car’s engine.  I trust her as a doctor even thought I know almost nothing about her personally that would make her trustworthy outside her medical degree.  She communicates medically, simply, and effectively, and is therefore a good communicator.


Can trust be built without communication?  Our company is owned by another company in Australia.  I’ve never met those leaders.  I only see a company-wide email on occasion.  I trust they are doing what needs to be done for our customers, stakeholders, and employees even though the communication is rare and sometimes jargon-filled.  Thus, I don’t consider them “great” communicators, yet I do seem them as being trustworthy.

One without the other is not good, but I’ll take trust over communication all day long.



Modified Ethics for the Common Good

Modified Ethics for the Common Good by Stephen Hudak

Modified Ethics

Sheila Murray Bethel writes “when standards and performance do not match, when they do not send a clear sound, we lack authenticity, confuse our followers, and set bad examples” (Bethel 128); to do otherwise destroys relationships, devours trust, and loses supporters.  It is said that the real character of a man is revealed when he is alone.  Are we the same person when we are alone as are with family, friends, at work, at church?  Ethics should have no setting; it must be who we are, how we act, regardless of the circumstances we face.

Easier said than done.

Bethel references a story from the San Francisco Chronicle of money from an armored car open door flooding a street and how some persons gathered money for their own pockets while others garnered it for the police to return to the rightful owner.  Ethics does not play games.  Finders keepers; losers weepers is only for children’s games.  Or is it?  Does ethics judge?

I felt my ethics were fairly well grounded, but during a recent trip to India I witnessed such poverty and depression that the above Chronicle story was considered through more passionate eyes.  If some of those plucking dollar bills off the ground stood naked, dirty, diseased, and lame my initial response is to let them have it for their bloated-bellied children.  A few dollars could feed them for weeks – a few hundred dollars for many months.  I know the money is not theirs, but who could better use it?

Bethel poses the question of whether we would “…have to think very long” (Bethel 132) to find our answer.  For one to whom money does not mean immediate life, then I say return it to the rightful owner; for those such as the Indian children dying lying on a dirt floor under a cardboard roof I say keep it.  This brings us to the multi-authored essay “Thinking Ethically.”

For the Common Good

Manual Velasquez and others write of the “Utilitarian Approach” in which “…the ethical action is the one that provides the greatest good for the greatest number” (Velasquez 139).  Even though it might be ethically right to deny found money to skeletal children it must certainly be morally wrong.

Or is it?

If a father steals bread for his child he is guilty in the eyes of the law, but a savior to the child.  If an urban youth steals a video game most would feel that is wrong.  What is the difference?  Well…that is obvious, need opposed to greed…but is either ethically right?  If we subscribe to the utilitarian approach, then hunger rises above the need for entertainment.  If we consider the bread-game question under Velasquez’ five ethical problem solving questions we can perhaps come to conclusion.

First, What benefits and what harms will each course of action produce and which alternative will lead to the best overall consequence?  If we go under the assumption that the bread thief is indeed taking it for his child then the benefits outweigh the harm and the potential cost of getting caught is insignificant.  A game is not a necessity in any regard.

What moral rights do the affected parties have, and which course of action best respects those rights?  When morality is brought into the equation the father is operating under greater moral direction than the game-thief.  The one who loses bread (provided she is not in similar circumstance to the man) does not suffer nor does the merchant minus one game.  The affected parties lose little, the game-thief loses nothing, and the father gains much.Modified Ethics

Which course of action treats everyone the same, except where there is a morally justifiable reason not to, and does not show favoritism or discrimination?  This problem solving question is perhaps the most difficult to answer in our situation.  It begs us to remove emotion from the circumstance and to focus on facts.  The reasons for and results of the act are subjective.  Objectivity is required to answer the substance of the question – treating everyone the same – regardless of from where the one stealing comes.  The act itself, of stealing, is wrong in everyone’s eyes.

Which course of action advances the common good?  To eliminate theft from any society would be the goal.  To eliminate the need for thievery in the case of the father is a great moral and economic dilemma.  A society, such as that in India, where overpopulation is far greater than that of any other country needs great reform in order to provide jobs, housing, and other basic needs for its citizens.  Stealing a game cannot be justified.  Neither act advances the common good by itself, but both create community awareness of what is lacking in a society – basic needs and moral education.

Which course of action develops moral virtues?  Finally, both the deeds of the father and game-stealer necessitate justification.  If rationalization is considered in moral and ethical questions we enter situational ethics.  Right should be right and wrong should be wrong, but in a world of varying color and culture perhaps there can be no black and white decisions – only answers to the first question of benefits and harms.

Works Cited

Bether, Sheila Murray.  “A Leader has High Ethics: Building Trust with Your Followers.”  Leadership Development Studies.  Ed. Monika S. Byrd.  Mississippi: Phi Theta Kappa, 2006.  128.


Fourscore and Several Priorities Later…

Fourscore and Several Priorities Later… by Stephen Hudak

Live to Work…Not Work to Live

“Work can provide [a] purpose and is increasingly it is where men and women seek it.  It is where we hope to gain much of our satisfaction from life.  Work has become a place where we seek meaning and identity” (Kouzes 158).

Say what???

After reading that paragraph for the third time and seeing the sad statistic stating “…50 percent of the U.S. managers surveyed said that their careers gave them the most satisfaction in life…” (Kouzes 158) I could only shake my head in disbelief.  Expecting to see this fact attached to a study declaring that the rate of divorce is directly proportional to the higher one climbs in the business world – I read on.

Gettysburg Address

Lincoln’s Draft of the Gettysburg Address

“…family was almost as important as work…” (Kouzes 158).  WHEW!  That must almost provide some security to 50 percent of the families of these misguided business persons.  Does making work a higher priority than your family make you a leader?  To be fair to James Kouzes’ and Barry Posner’s article “Enlist Others: Attracting People to Common Purposes” I must make it clear that half of Americans said they received more satisfaction from their career than family, not that their work was a higher priority, but, nonetheless, the results of this survey are, or should be, alarming.

To be successful in any endeavor, work, sport, family – taking joy in that effort goes a long way to ensure success, but when work comes first all-around personal success, including happiness, is usually short-lived.


“Four score and seven years ago…”  Those words, spoken by President Abraham Lincoln are among the most famous words in American history and the 278 words that comprise “The Gettysburg Address” are regarded as a model of written and verbal communication for their brevity, directness, and clarity.

Lincoln was not scheduled to be the main speaker that day, November 19, 1863, but his short address outshone and outlasted that of the Honorable Edward Everett.  Everett’s seldom-read flowery 13,607 word (two-hour) speech preceded Lincoln’s and began:

“Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature.”

Those souls still awake two-hours later were then treated to Lincoln’s heartfelt message.

Lincoln’s speech, along with its literary merits, stands as a model of leadership.  He gives credit, taking none himself, to the “…brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract” (Lincoln 153).  Would-be leaders take note – when speaking to those you lead say what you have to say (succinctly) and then stop talking.  The intended message often gets lost in the mass (or perhaps, mess) of words.  Slick words turn most of us off.  We have been “paradigmed, moved outside our boxes, realigned, and reorganized, until our customer-focused, principle-centered, performance-based, envelope-pushing bodies can’t take any more.”  Lincoln said more in his 270-plus words than many people we know have said in their leader-pretending lives.

Leadership is more living a philosophy than merely speaking one.  Lincoln obviously brought credibility along with his speech; integrity precedes words.  Lincoln said “…the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…” (Lincoln 153).  He never knew the impact those words would have even 144 years later.  They prove that simple, though heartfelt, words can move people.  What we say can have far-reaching effect, good or bad, long past the moment they are spoken and heard.

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Works Cited

Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner.  “Enlist Others: Attracting People to Common Purposes.”  Leadership Development Studies.  Ed. Monika S. Byrd.  Mississippi: Phi Theta Kappa, 2006.  158.

Lincoln, Abraham.  “The Gettysburg Address.”  Leadership Development Studies.  Ed. Monika S. Byrd.  Mississippi: Phi Theta Kappa, 2006.  153.



Speak About

Speak About by Stephen Hudak


“Speak about others as if they are present.[1]  Wow!  Stephen M.R. Covey has just solved about 90% of trust issues.  Gossip.  Water cooler talk. Text.  Email.  Social media.  Would we say, write, some of the things we have if the other person were right in front of us?  Doubtful.  Social media has spawned a generation of keyboard warriors.  People are brave when they cannot be seen.  We trade long-term trust for short term power.  Power gained by putting others down while briefly raising ourselves.  This short-lived sense of power eventually will leave us empty.

Think about the negativity you’ve seen on Facebook or Twitter.  People write those things because people hit “like” or “retweet” providing a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of being important.  Would we do this is the other person were standing in front of us?  Again, doubtful, but we continue to do it.  Underline the first sentence in this essay.  When you feel the urge (and it is strong) to speak or write something negative about someone remember this sentence.

Someone wrote “Is it true.  Is it kind.  Is it necessary.”  If your words can pass all three of those and you can live with yourself, then post away.  Otherwise, consider the consequences of your words.  If the other person were right in front of you, how would this make them feel?  How would it make you feel?  Would you feel the same power-boost when you can see their face, their mouth slipping into a frown, their downcast eyes?  Would you be willing to deal with their heartbreak or anger?  It’s easy to think we can, but really think about this.  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will scar deep and those wounds may never heal.


[1] From The Speed of Trust.  Covey, Stephen M.R. page 174.

No Man is an Iceberg

Thoughts on John P. Kotter’s What Leaders Really Do by Stephen Hudak


“Management is about coping with complexity; Leadership is about coping with change” (Leaders 53).  Harvard Professor John P. Kotter has built a life and career around that concept.  His fifteen books including such titles as Leading Change and The Heart of Change are laden with real life examples and interviews with thousands of corporate leader-mangers.  While his wording becomes a bit labored and overdone in John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do his tables and lists more than make up for it.  When an idea becomes muddled in a mountain of words there appears a numbered list that helps to get the reader back on track and understand the topic’s intent.  A little bit of time and patience invested is definitely worth the effort.

Kotter begins this short book with a chapter entitled “Leadership at the Turn of the Century” (it would be interesting to see a revised edition of this volume post September 11)[1].  In it he lists his “Ten Observations About ‘Managerial Behavior.”  This follows on the heels of his premise that leaders manage change and managers manage things (people, schedules, tasks, etc.).  Kotter clearly states “…the point is not that leadership is good and management is bad…they are simply different and serve different purposes” (Leaders 11).  He goes on to indicate that both are necessary and are sometimes found in the same person noting “… the real challenge is to combine strong leadership and strong management and to use each to balance the other” (Leaders 52).  He then confesses “not everyone can be good at both leading and managing…” and that “…smart companies value both kinds of people and work hard to make them part of the team…” (Leaders 52).  Many of Kotter’s observations are along this common-sense line, but he expresses them with examples that give life to his words.

In observation number six Kotter discusses managerial behavior as:

“…those in managerial jobs can be usefully thought of as people who create agendas filled with plans (the management part) and visions (the leadership part), as people who develop implementation capacity networks through a well-organized hierarchy (management) and a complex web of aligned relationships (leadership), and who execute through both controls (management) and inspiration (leadership)” (Leaders 6).


One person is often better at either managing people or things.  The leadership aspects are much more difficult.  People are more varied than production schedules, much more complex, and the consequences of the mismanagement of people are more drastic.  This process of leading people (and change) is the bulk of Kotter’s book.

Kotter divides his book into two distinct parts: Leadership and Change, and Dependency and Networks.  From the first part’s chapters on “Choosing Strategies for Change,” “What Leaders Really Do” and “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” and into the second part’s first chapter “Power, Dependence, and Effective Management” much useful insight can be found.  The last two chapters on “Managing Your Boss” and “What Effective General Managers Really Do,” while containing some nuggets of leadership wisdom, are mostly are repetitive and could be best dealt with in the earlier chapters as side notes.  Those concluding “throw-away” chapters first appeared in 1993 and 1982 respectively in the Harvard Business Review and could definitely benefit from updating.


Kotter writes that “…most U.S. corporations today are overmanaged and underled” (Leaders 51).  This is all too true as many companies lack either the willingness or capacity to empower their managers to exercise their leadership skills.  Managers are often put through intensive and expensive training to little or no avail.  This lack of trust in the workplace is one topic that could have been addressed in Kotter’s book beyond four paragraphs headed “Misunderstanding and Lack of Trust.”  In this context trust is attended to regarding people’s resistance to change when people “…do not understand [the implications of the change] and perceive that it might cost them more than they will gain…” when they do not clearly understand the message nor trust its messenger (Leaders 33).  A leader must be trusted and in any relationship trust must be established and maintained.  This goes way beyond Kotter’s few sentences on misunderstanding and would give greater credence to what leaders really do.

This book shines in its many exhibits that summarize and offer easily understood tips that can be flagged and flipped to when needed.  For example, his “Methods for Dealing with Resistance to Change” not only admit that there will be resistance to most change but outlines approaches to use in various situations along with the advantages and drawbacks of that particular approach.  In table format Kotter simply notes:


  Methods for Dealing with Resistance to Change    
Approach Commonly Used in Situations Advantages Drawbacks
Education + Communication Where there is lack of information or inaccurate information and analysis Once persuaded, people will often help with the implementation of the change Can be very time-consuming if lots of people are involved

From Exhibit 2-1 (Leaders 44)[2]


John Kotter’s chapter on “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” alone is worth the price of the book.  It contains eight common errors that change-leaders too often overlook (or never even consider) before, during, and after the change process.  In his order these include:

Error #1: Not establishing a Great Enough Sense of Urgency

Error #2: Not Providing a Powerful Enough Guiding Coalition

Error #3: Lacking a Vision

Error #4: Under-communicating the Vision by a Factor of Ten

Error #5: Not Removing Obstacles to the New Vision

Error #6: Not Systematically Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins

Error #7: Declaring Victory Too Soon

Error #8: Not Anchoring Changes in the Corporation’s Culture


Corporate classes on these errors should be conducted with any organization’s leaders prior to attempting even a seemingly small change.  We can all picture error #7 with President George W. Bush standing on the deck of the aircraft carrier under the banner “Mission Accomplished.”  Much discussion has taken place about this scenario ranging from Bush having no idea of the sign prior to his arrival (Republican viewpoint) to just another example of Bush jumping the gun and declaring victory too soon (Democrat stance).  Regardless, whoever was behind that fiasco obviously never heard of Kotter’s Error #7.

Error #8 is where most organizations ultimately fail.  Even if they avoid the first seven, by not ensuring that the new change becomes part of the company culture, it is all too easy for workers to fall back into the mindset of how “it’s always been.”  Complacency means death to any changing and growing business.

John Kotter teamed up with author Holger Rathgeber to create the very entertaining bestseller Our Iceberg is Melting[3].  This leadership-book-as-fable uses Kotter’s eight errors (with the more positive rephrasing “The Eight Step Process of Successful Change”) to tell the story of a colony of penguins who have lived in the same region of Antarctica so long that none of its members can remember otherwise.  Needless to say, complacency has long taken root, and the large birds mostly go about their penguin-lives with blinders on.  Except for one young curious bird, Fred, who notices that one portion of their iceberg seems to be smaller than it was last year.  Fred begins investigating his observation and the book takes the reader through each of the eight error-steps using the interaction of Fred and the penguin leadership team in setting a vision to convince the citizens of the ramifications of doing nothing through to the happy conclusion of making the changes a part of their featherless culture.  “Iceberg” and “Leaders” should be read together – with the penguin-fable studied first (Iceberg).

Both books note that all change is different; that’s why it’s called “change” and not “constant.”  Kotter’s (and Fred’s) methods are to be thoughtfully considered and used as applicable.  He (Kotter, not Fred) knows that one-size change does not exist and could never fit all if it did.  With all the possibilities mentioned in Kotter’s book, if all were attempted, change would never be realized – only a never-ending semi-change process would exist.  His considerable concepts are easily understood and meant to be used in the suitable circumstance.  If applied properly, success should be achieved with minimal interruption to the employee’s psyche or work day.

A major breakdown of Kotter’s book is the concluding chapter (one of the aforementioned throw-aways).  Titled “What General Managers Really Do” this essay from 1982 completes the notion of what the book is – a compilation of previously written material.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but ending a book on “What Leaders Really Do” with pseudo-conversations of GM and employee interactions and MG-agendas does not stress the leadership part.  Instead it serves to weaken the rest of the book and is anticlimactical.  The second half of the book is like a balloon with a steady leak.  It is enjoyable early on, but with continued handling it eventually falls flat.

Read Our Iceberg is Melting for an enjoyable learning experience then John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do (part 1 only) for the more instructional how-to aspects of leadership.  For a man who has spent the bulk of his life in academia and very little in the practical world of business (outside of research) he has made quite a successful career of teaching leadership and the change aspects involved.

Take Kotter’s writings in small portions, but do take them and learn from them.

[1] John Kotter, in Harvard Business Review, has published a “cliff-notes” version if you will of this book that boils down the concepts into 11 pages.  I would recommend reading this first before tackling the 171-page book.  His article still does not discuss the post-9/11 world and it is pre-Enron, pre-Adelphia, but condenses the book’s ideas into a quick, easy-to-read format.

[2] This table shows only one example.  Kotter covers six different approaches from when there is sufficient time allowed for a change to occur to when speed is of the utmost concern and includes methods ranging from involving those affected to “explicit and implicit coercion.”

[3] The following description is loosely based on this book.