Leadership in the Management Practice: “Our Iceberg Is Melting” by John Kotter Essay (Book Review)


The book ‘Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions’ by John Kotter entails an analysis of the importance of leadership as one of the management practices that individuals and organizations should incorporate. The book uses a simple metaphor ‘Our iceberg is melting’ to illustrate the fact that one can perform well in a dynamic environment.The story relates to colony of penguins within the Antarctica region. The penguins had been living together peacefully for a long period and did not perceive the need to change. One day, a curious penguin by the name Fred identified a shocking phenomenon that would threaten their existence. The iceberg which was their home was melting.Despite warning the other penguins of the eminent danger, no one took him seriously. Considering the fact that Fred did not have any authority within the colony, he realized the need to initiate change. To achieve this, he approached another penguin by the name Alice who was more open-minded and flexible (Kotter, 1996, p.5).The fable is used to illustrate how people react to change. The tale depicts a number of elements which include confusion, insight, a heroism and resistance to change. Additionally, the story also illustrates the challenges that are encountered on a daily basis in an effort to implement change and how to deal with them.Through the fable, the author shows that penguins are more effective in dealing with real challenges compared to human beings. He achieves this by illustrating the steps that the penguins took in order to resolve the dilemma.These included effective problem identification, realization of the need to resolve the problem urgently, integration of teamwork, and thinking outside the box. In an effort to resolve the problem, the penguins experienced a number of problems such as skepticism. However, the penguins were able to adapt to a new way of life through effective selection of choices.This paper entails a review of the book, ‘Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions’ by John Kotter. The paper outlines the importance of the book to various parties in addition to comparing it with the book ‘Why Should Anyone be Led by You? What it takes to be an authentic leader by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones.

John Kotter biography

John Kotter is an accomplished professor working with the Harvard Business School. He is a graduate of MIT University and Harvard Business School (Kotter, 1996, p.187). For a long period, Kotter has been considered to be a guru with regard to leadership and change. He has authored more than fifteen books with ‘Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions’ being his latest.Additionally, he has also garnered a number of awards for his proficiency in business leadership. Some of these awards include Johnson, Smith and Knisely Award for New Perspectives in Business Leadership and the Exxon Award (Kotter, 1996, p. 187).He has also acquired enormous experience on leadership and change which is evidenced by the success with which he established Kotter International, a leadership organization. The objective of the organization is to help organizational leaders to acquire practical leadership skills and methodologies that they can use in leading change (Harvard Business School, 2009, para. 1).His books are aimed at illustrating how organizations can implement change.

Book review

Some of the main issues discussed in this book are evaluated below.

Inevitability of change

Kotter (1996, p.3) asserts that organizations are increasingly facing challenges arising from the macro environment. Kotter further asserts that the probability of these challenges being eliminated in the 21st century is minimal. This arises from the fact that the business environment is increasingly becoming complex. In order to survive in the long-term as going concern entities, organizations must adapt to the changing environment. This means that change is inevitable.Despite the firms’ effort to implement change, Kotter (1996, p.4) is of the opinion that they have not been effective. This has often culminated into wastage of resources in addition to the employees becoming frustrated. Failure to implement change also culminates into reduction of a firm’s competitiveness.

The change process

There are a number of errors that minimize an organization’s effort to implement change (Kotter, 1996, p.4). Kotter has formulated eight processes that firms’ management teams should follow in their effort to implement change. These steps are analyzed below.

Establishing a sense of urgency

Kotter asserts that most individuals and organizations fail in their effort to implement change due to their complacency. This means that individuals do not realize the importance of implementing change urgently. The external business environment presents numerous challenges and opportunities to businesses.Kotter illustrates the element of complacency by using an example of Andrien is a divisional head in a large chemical producing company. Despite identifying possible problems that the organization may face in the future, Andrien does not implement the necessary changes. The resultant effect is that the firm failed (Kotter, 1996, p.4).Kotter asserts that it is paramount for firms’ management teams to continuously evaluate the external environment in order to determine the appropriate decision to implement. Lack of urgency makes individuals to respond slowly to changes. Kotter emphasizes that individuals should move out of the comfort zones and respond appropriately to the changes that they are facing.

Creating a strong guiding coalition

To implement change, Kotter (1996, p.7) is of the opinion that it is important for individuals and organizations to establish a powerful guiding coalition. The coalition should be composed of members possessing the necessary characteristics. One of the ways through which this can be achieved is by considering members who have good qualities such as good reputation, expertise, good relationship with other members and good leadership qualities.The importance of forming a strong guiding coalition arises from the fact that one individual cannot posses all the qualities necessary to implement the necessary change. Additionally, the guiding coalition should have the interest of the organization at heart rather than being guided by self-interest. All forms of bureaucracies in the team should be eliminated. Kotter (1996, p.7) further asserts that lack of a strong leadership within the guiding coalition can limit the effectiveness of implementing change.Kotter illustrates the importance of developing a strong guiding coalition by giving an example of Claire who is a human resource director with a US-based bank. In an effort to implement change in the organization, Claire does not include key line managers from the bank’s department as members of the guiding coalition. The resultant effect is that the taskforce charged with the responsibility of implementing change does not achieve the intended objective (Kotter, 1996, p. 6)

Developing a clear vision and a change strategy

According to Kotter (1996, p.7), developing a clear vision is critical in the process of implementing change. This is due to the fact that vision enables individuals charged with the responsibility of implementing change to have a clear direction. The resultant effect is that all the parties’ actions are effectively aligned.Lack of a clear vision may result into confusion amongst the individual implementing the change. Additionally, their efforts become incompatible which makes the change process to be time consuming. Kotter further asserts that the change process should follow a well developed strategy. This will aid in eliminating potential conflicts (Kotter, 1996, p. 7).

Communicating the vision

Organizations should ensure that there is a clear understanding of the formulated vision and strategies amongst all the parties. To achieve this, firm’s management teams should integrate effective communication strategies. In their communication efforts, organizations should integrate different vehicles.This will play a critical role in creating adequate understanding of the vision. The resultant effect is that a large number of individuals will be integrated in the change process which means that resistance is reduced. Additionally, in communicating the vision, firm’s management teams should also teach employees new behaviors using the illustration of the guiding coalition team.

Empowering a broad-based action

In implementing change, there are a number of challenges that are experienced (Kotter, 1996, p. 8). According to Kotter, some of these challenges originate from within the organization. For example, one of the challenges may arise from the fact that the organization may have implemented a rigid organizational structure that does not allow implementation of change with ease. Secondly, employees’ job categories may not be well defined. As a result, there is a high probability of job conflict amongst the employees.Another problem may arise from poorly implemented performance-appraisal systems. However, organizations should incorporate the most effective strategies aimed at eliminating the obstacles.Organizational management teams should encourage employees to participate in different activities and actions that would enhance implementation of change. Additionally, risk-taking behavior amongst the parties should also be encouraged.

Planning short term wins

Organizations should integrate clear performance improvement plans. After designing the plan, the management teams should ensure that the necessary improvements are implemented. The plans should take into consideration short term wins which are aimed at monitoring the progress. Kotter is of the opinion that short term wins should have a shorter timeframe for such as one year. The short term wins established should be easily identified by the all parties within the organization.In order to enhance participation of all employees, Kotter advocates for organizational management teams to incorporate reward systems. For example, they should recognize employees who depict exemplary performance improvement.

Never letting up

Kotter further asserts that organizations should consolidate their improvement efforts in order to enhance more change. This means that the credibility awarded to leaders who portray exemplary change efforts should be used to deal with challenging situations.To ensure that change is effectively implemented, it is important for organizational management teams to consider outsourcing experts to help in the change implementation process. Additionally, firm’s management teams should ensure that their employees can implement the formulated vision on their own. One of the ways through which this can be achieved is by ensuring effective employee development.

Integrating change into the organizational culture

Management teams should integrate the new behaviors established with the organizational culture. This can only be achieved if the organization associates new behaviors with its corporate success. Integrating change with organizational culture can enhance the change implementation process.

Comparison with Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones book

The book ‘Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions’ by John Kotter and ‘Why Should Anyone be Led by You? What it takes to be an authentic leader by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones are similar in a number of ways. For example, the objective of the two books is to enable individuals develop their leadership skills.The authors of the two books illustrate the fact that effective leadership is a problem that is experienced by all individuals. In order to become good leaders and to be able to deal with leadership dilemmas, the authors have outlined the key concepts that individuals should integrate.The steps outlined in the two books are similar. For example, the two authors emphasize the importance of taking risk in implementing change. Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones emphasize the importance of remaining authentic to the change process (Goffee & Jones, 2006, p. 45). Similarly, Kotter asserts that it is important for organizations to develop a strong guiding coalition. Therefore, the two books emphasize on the importance of eliminating self-interest in the change process.Additionally, the authors underscore the importance of integrating change within the organization’s culture. To ensure that change is effectively implemented, the authors have illustrated the importance of integrating effective communication strategies. Goffee and Jones (2006, p.161) asserts that communication should be undertaken with care.The objective of the incorporating communication is to ensure that all the parties involved understand the need for change. The importance of integrating a reward system in an effort to ensure effective leadership is also underscored by the two authors.The two books differ with regard to the method used in illustrating the how one can implement change. For example, Kotter uses a business fable in order to enable individuals understand leadership concepts. This has made the book to be friendly to the reader. On the other hand, Goffee and Jones use a question ‘Why should anyone be led by you?’. This has made the book to be relatively complex in understanding the concepts that should be integrated in order to become a good leader.

Personal reaction to the book

The book is very resourceful to both individuals and organizations. One of the reasons arises from the fact that it is very effective in illustrating the steps which individuals and organizations can integrate in an effort to successfully implement the necessary change. The use of the penguin story has made it easy for one to understand complex change concepts and theories.This has made the book to be very simplified in outlining important management concepts that individuals should consider integrating in developing their leadership skills. The resultant effect is that the probability of becoming an effective leader in an environment that has become very dynamic is increased.However, the book overemphasizes on the change process and pays minimal analysis of why change is inevitable. Therefore, for individuals who have not yet understood why change is inevitable, it is not appropriate to read the book. I would recommend that they should start by reading the book ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ by John Kotter.

Things gained from the book that I would incorporate in my leadership

In order to enhance my leadership skills in implementing change, I would consider developing a strong guiding coalition. This arises from the fact that the quality of the taskforce or team members charged with the responsibility of implementing change must possess the necessary qualities.Decision to implement a strong guiding coalition is also motivated by the fact that no individual have all the qualities necessary to implement change effectively. If a poor guiding coalition is developed, the probability of failure in implementing change is high.Additionally, I would also consider incorporating an effective reward system. The objective of the reward system would be to motivate individuals who portray exemplary performance. The resultant effect is that resistance in implementing change will be minimized.


From the book review, Kotter is very effective in illustrating how one can implement change through effective leadership. The book is very beneficial to individuals intending to develop their leadership skills. A number of steps that should be considered in the change process are outlined.One of these steps entails ensuring effective communication of the intended change. To achieve this, different communication strategies should be put into consideration. Kotter’s book is similar to the book by Goffee and Jones in that the two books have outlined how one can become good in leading change.

Reference List

Goffee, R., & Jones, G. (2006). Why should anyone be led by you?: What it takes to be an authentic leader. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School.

Harvard Business School. (2009). Biography: John Kotter. Retrieved from https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=6495

Kotter, J. (1996). Our iceberg is melting: Changing and succeeding under any conditions. New York: Harvard Business School.

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