Maybe I always thought that change was an important component of leadership … I really can’t remember any more. But, I do remember the moment when my current appreciation for the link between the two became really clear to me. For four years as a graduate student, I was a research assistant to John Kotter at Harvard Business School. He was interested in what made leaders into leaders and wrote and researched a great deal on the topic — eventually he was named the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard.
A few years after he was named THE leadership guy at HBS, I realized that he was no longer talking a lot about leadership. He was spending a lot more time talking about “change.” I was puzzled by the shift, but the answer was simple. He told me: “I finally distilled the essence of leadership down into what leaders really do. What a real leader does is changes the way that other people do things.”
Kotter had written an early book describing the differences between leaders and managers. And when you think about it, getting people to do the same thing over and over again is management; getting people to do something different is truly leadership. It is one of the best definitions of the difference between those two words that I’ve ever heard.
Good leaders have to be leaders of change.