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Kotter: Why do leaders fail at transmitting vision?

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“a gallon of information…dumped in a river of routine communication”

John Kotter’s Leading Change (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996) does an excellent job explaining the difficulty of vision moving through an organization. A guiding coalition may take hundreds of hours to study a situation and come to conclusions. But as they do this intellectual work, they are also doing the emotional work of “letting go of the status quo, letting go of further options, coming to grips with the sacrifices, coming to trust others….” (88)

This is all part of the process and when that guiding coalition finishes and forms their conclusion they naturally feel their work is done.

Their work is not done.

That’s because nobody outside the coalition has done any of this difficult intellectual and emotional rejiggering. In fact, most will be blindsided because they’ve been hard at the tasks they always do. They don’t have a clue what is coming.

This is typically the point of failure. Someone from the coalition gives a speech or authors an article in the company newsletter. Or maybe a series of three articles. Here’s Kotter, very bluntly:

So a gallon of information is dumped into a river of routine communication, where it is quickly diluted, lost, and forgotten.

John P. Kotter, Leading Change (89)

John P. Kotter, Leading Change (89)

Compacting and condensing and boiling down the intellectual and emotional journey is essential before anyone else can or will sink their teeth into the vision. But who budgets time or money for that piece of the process?

Those who understand vision needs legs and motivation to run through an organization.

Transmitting vision must be an intentional invitation.


Image credit: John Kotter, Leading Change (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996)

2 Responses

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  1. Very interesting. Not familiar with Kotter, but this is a good start! Thanks for the preview 🙂


    December 16, 2014 at 6:51 pm

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