Academic Leadership Organizational Change

Leading Changes: Why Transformation Explanations Fail

A critique of Professor Kotter’s infamous Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail paper.


Professor John Kotter (1995) claimed in Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail to have identified eight leadership errors which resulted in transformation failures.  He followed this up in 1996 with his best-selling book Leading Change, prescribing an eight step model for leading transformations encouraging change leaders to create a sense of urgency, build powerful guiding coalitions and develop visions. 

Kotter openly acknowledged that he neither drew examples nor major ideas from any published source, except his own writing.  In the 2012 edition of his book, which included a new preface, Kotter claimed that his book was now more relevant than when it was first published. 

As leaders knowingly or unknowingly still use Kotter’s steps and academics still cite this book, this paper critically assesses Kotter’s claim about the relevance of Leading Change.  Three conclusions are drawn:

  • leading Change remains an enduring landmark leadership study,
  • but Leading Change is stuck in the past and
  • paradoxically today discourages change.

Leading changes: Why transformation explanations fail

Published in SAGE journal Leadership 12(4): 449-469. Published first online 9th Feb 2015. Issue published 1st Sept 2016. Downloaded 23,084 times (as at December 2022).

If you have online access to the journal please use this LINK

If you do not have online access to the journal please use this LINK to access an accepted version of the paper.

3 replies on “Leading Changes: Why Transformation Explanations Fail”

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