GROUP EXIT & A Review of “Leading Change” by John Kotter (Harvard Business Review Press)

Quotes: “Change sticks only when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’ when it seeps into the very bloodstream of the work unit or corporate body … (but) The combination of cultures that resist change and managers who have not been taught how to create change is lethal… In an organization with 100 employees, at least two dozen must go far beyond the normal call of duty to produce a significant change” (Kotter).”

By Rev. Jeff Lawson, lead pastor, Life Church, Aurora, IN, 1/19/16.

Leading Change by John P Kotter was not written for pastors, but it is my conviction that every pastor should read this book. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to any person who is involved in leadership.

In this rapidly changing world, Kotter gives a clear cut guide regarding how to be a leader that champions change. He says, “Change sticks only when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here’ when it seeps into the very bloodstream of the work unit or corporate body.” So the process for the leader is to take the idea and slowly work to develop a guiding coalition until it becomes the norm.

When I pastored in Illinois the church quickly went from a church of 30 to a church of 100 in less than a year. Every single Sunday would bring new faces to our growing congregation. With those new faces came new problems. I believe if I had read Leading Change before I arrived at my church that I would have been ready to handle the coming problems.

There are potential pitfalls that the leader must foresee and battle. One of those battles are with those who oppose the change. Kotter says, “The combination of cultures that resist change and managers who have not been taught how to create change is lethal.” This is why it is imperative that the leader is prepared for opposition. I was not prepared in my church in Illinois.

I challenged the congregation that if we had 100 in attendance for Easter Sunday that they could put a pie in my face. We had more than 150 with more than a dozen first time decisions for Christ. I exclaimed during the service that we had a unique problem. I told them we had to begin to think about adding on to receive the new attenders that God was sending us. The next day the elders came in with another option. It was time for me to resign my position as pastor. I was all wrong on how I introduced change and those who opposed it had already dug in their heels.

In retrospect I should have spent more time in building the vision of the church to the leadership. Kotter says, “Vision plays a key role in producing useful change by helping direct, align, and inspire actions on the part of large numbers of people.” If the leadership had walked the path to see the vision coming to fruition it would have been more feasible for them to accept the needed change that they were experiencing. What I was proposing was coming solely at this time from me. Kotter says, “In an organization with 100 employees, at least two dozen must go far beyond the normal call of duty to produce a significant change.” I had yet to build a team that was ready to see the vision happen.

Even with the church growing, people coming to Christ, the giving at an all-time high, and an eager excitement oozing from the new attenders I failed to realize what Kotter said, “Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.” When the elders came to me the next morning they had more than enough support to ask for my resignation. “A strong guiding coalition is always needed-one with the right composition, level of trust, and shared objective.” I had none of these, and by the time that my District Superintendent got involved, it was too late

The problems in my church were good problems, but even so, they were problems. I wonder at times how things might have been different if I had introduced change at a slower pace with better methods and a grand plan.

Thankfully we can learn from our mistakes and learn from competent leaders like Kotter and break such cycles.