John P. Kotter

Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus


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John P. Kotter is internationally known and widely regarded as the foremost speaker on the topics of Leadership and Change.  His is the premier voice on how the best organizations actually achieve successful transformations. The Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and a graduate of MIT and Harvard, Kotter’s vast experience and knowledge on successful change and leadership have been proven time and again. Most recently Kotter was involved in the creation and co-founding of Kotter International, a leadership organization that helps Global 5000 company leaders develop the practical skills and implementation methodologies required to lead change in a complex, large-scale business environment.

Kotter has authored 18 books, twelve of them bestsellers.  His works have been printed in over 150 foreign language editions and total sales exceed three million copies. His latest book, Buy-In, focuses on the problems associated with getting others engaged and committed to good ideas and provides solutions for dealing with attacks on your good ideas. His books are in the top 1% of sales on

John Kotter’s articles in The Harvard Business Review over the past twenty years have sold more reprints than any of the hundreds of distinguished authors who have written for that publication during the same time period. Kotter has been on the Harvard Business School faculty since 1972. In 1980, at the age of 33, he was given tenure and a full professorship, making him one of the youngest people in the history of the University to be so honored.

Professor Kotter is the 2009 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by ASTD (American Society for Training & Development). This award was presented in recognition of his extensive body of work and the significant impact he has had on learning and performance in organizations.


What People Are Saying About Dr. Kotter:

"Your talk was instrumental in helping me raise the leadership bar."

"You clearly sneaked under the defenses of even the most skeptical of our people and established memorable reference points which will be cited repeatedly in the future.  More importantly, you delivered reinforcement, hope and direction for their pursued leadership development aspirations.”

This was a quite uplifting and inspirational experience for me - delivered by one of the finest teachers I have ever seen. I will not forget this one.

Featured Work



  1. Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down

    You've got a good idea. You know it could make a crucial difference for you, your organization, your community. You present it to the group but get confounding questions, inane comments, and verbal bullets in return. Before you know what's happened, your idea is dead, shot down. You're furious. Everyone has lost: Those who would have benefited from your proposal. You. Your company. Perhaps even the country. It doesn't have to be this way, maintain John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead. In Buy-In, they reveal how to win the support your idea needs to deliver valuable results. The key? Understand the generic attack strategies that naysayers and obfuscators deploy time and time again. Then engage these adversaries with tactics tailored to each strategy. By "inviting in the lions" to critique your idea-and being prepared for them-you'll capture busy people's attention, help them grasp your proposal's value, and secure their commitment to implementing the solution. The book presents a fresh and amusing fictional narrative showing attack strategies in action. It then provides several specific counterstrategies for each basic category the authors have defined-including the following:Death-by-delay: Your enemies push discussion of your idea so far into the future it's forgotten. Confusion: They present so much data that confidence in your proposal dies. Fearmongering: Critics catalyze irrational anxieties about your idea. Character assassination: They slam your reputation and credibility. Smart, practical, and filled with useful advice, Buy-In equips you to anticipate and combat attacks-so your good idea makes it through to make a positive change.

    Keywords: Communication Intention and Meaning; Cost vs Benefits; Problems and Challenges; Interests; Value;


    Kotter, John P., and Lorne A. Whitehead. Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down. Harvard Business Review Press, 2010. View Details
  2. Managing Your Boss

    Managing your boss: Isn't that merely manipulation? Corporate cozying up? Not according to John Gabarro and John Kotter. In this handy guidebook, the authors contend that you manage your boss for a very good reason: to do your best on the job—and thereby benefit not only yourself but also your supervisor and your entire company. Your boss depends on you for cooperation, reliability, and honesty. And you depend on him or her for links to the rest of the organization, for setting priorities, and for obtaining critical resources. By managing your boss—clarifying your own and your supervisor's strengths, weaknesses, goals, work styles, and needs—you cultivate a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding. The result? A healthy, productive bond that enables you both to excel. Gabarro and Kotter provide valuable guidelines for building this essential relationship—including strategies for determining how your boss prefers to process information and make decisions, tips for communicating mutual expectations, and tactics for negotiating priorities. Thought provoking and practical, "Managing Your Boss" enables you to lay the groundwork for one of the most crucial working relationships you'll have in your career.

    Keywords: Communication; Decision Making; Information Management; Managerial Roles; Negotiation Tactics; Performance Productivity; Personal Development and Career; Relationships; Personal Characteristics;


    Gabarro, John J., and John P. Kotter. Managing Your Boss. Paperback ed. Harvard Business Review Classics. Harvard Business School Press, 2008. View Details
  3. Organization: Text, Cases, and Readings on the Management of Organizational Design and Change

    Keywords: Management; Organizational Design; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Cases;


    Schlesinger, P. F., V. Sathe, L. A. Schlesinger, and J. P. Kotter. Organization: Text, Cases, and Readings on the Management of Organizational Design and Change. 3rd ed. Homewood, IL: Irwin, 1992. View Details

Journal Articles

  1. Managing Your Boss

    The best way to make a major impact in your organization? Forge a strong relationship with your boss. You'll get the support and resources you need to put your great ideas into action. But "managing up" isn't easy. For example, if you're reporting to a new CEO, you stand a good chance of finding yourself out the door. In this unique situation, it's vital to make the right first impression and swiftly establish your value. Equally challenging, it's not always clear what actions and attitudes your boss expects from you—or how he prefers to communicate and make decisions. This Harvard Business Review collection provides the guidebook you'll need to build a positive bond with your boss. You'll find suggestions for starting off on the right foot with a new supervisor, demonstrating the behaviors he expects, and discerning his work-style preferences. "Managing up" isn't manipulation. It's the surest route to giving your boss the cooperation he needs—and getting the resources you need to excel on the job.

    Keywords: Organizations; Relationships; Value; Behavior; Communication; Decisions;


    Gabarro, John J., and John P. Kotter. "Managing Your Boss." Managing Up, 2nd Edition (HBR Article Collection). Harvard Business Review 85, no. 5 (May 2007). View Details

Book Chapters

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Jack Thomas

    This redisguised version of an earlier case, Tom Levick, provides an updated setting but does not change the teaching objectives. Chronicles the first six weeks of experience on the job for a recent business school graduate. Emphasis is on managing upwards--particularly with respect to errors discovered by the protaganist for which his boss was responsible. Provides background data.

    Keywords: Power and Influence; Behavior; Leadership Style; Strategy; Rank and Position; Publishing Industry;


    Kotter, John P., and Andrew P. Burtis. "Jack Thomas." Harvard Business School Case 494-062, November 1993. (Revised June 2007.) View Details
  2. Recruiting at Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co.

    Examines the recruiting process of Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co. (BHC), an investment banking firm known for its work with middle market companies. Specifically, presents a profile of the firm and its recruiting process and then examines that process through the firm's recruiting efforts at Harvard Business School (HBS). Includes the resumes of 17 second-year HBS students who sought interviews for an associate position with BHC and raises the issue of how interview selections were made from those resumes.

    Keywords: Investment Banking; Recruitment; Selection and Staffing; Job Interviews; Banking Industry;


    Gabarro, John J., Herminia M. Ibarra, John P. Kotter, and Andrew P. Burtis. "Recruiting at Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co." Harvard Business School Case 494-071, December 1993. (Revised March 1997.) View Details
  3. First National City Bank Operating Group (C)

    Provides a short summary of John Reed's succession at City Bank from Executive Vice President in 1976 to CEO in 1984.

    Keywords: Management Teams; Personal Development and Career; Banking Industry;


    Kotter, John P., and Andrew P. Burtis. "First National City Bank Operating Group (C)." Harvard Business School Supplement 494-035, September 1993. (Revised October 1993.) View Details
  4. Renn Zaphiropoulos

    Focuses on the management style of Renn Zaphiropoulos in the context of a rapidly changing business environment within Xerox Corporation. To be contrasted with the case, Fred Henderson and the videotape, A Day with Fred Henderson (9-881-502), which are appropriate for a more stable environment.

    Keywords: Situation or Environment; Management Style; Consumer Products Industry; Electronics Industry;


    Kotter, John P. "Renn Zaphiropoulos." Harvard Business School Case 480-044, January 1980. (Revised October 1993.) View Details
  5. Changing the Culture at British Airways

    In just 10 years, 1980-1990, British Airways turned around both its declining image and financial situation. Focusing on the paramount importance of customer service, British Airways went from "bloody awful" to "bloody awesome." Experiencing a financial crisis in 1981 and trying to meet the challenges of privatization helped the people at British Airways focus on changing their culture through reorganization and instituting new beliefs.

    Keywords: Organizational Change and Adaptation; Organizational Culture; Problems and Challenges; Customer Relationship Management; Corporate Strategy; Privatization; Air Transportation Industry; United Kingdom;


    Kotter, John P. "Changing the Culture at British Airways." Harvard Business School Case 491-009, October 1990. (Revised September 1993.) View Details
  6. Kyocera Corp.

    Examines the three factors critical to this company's remarkable success in the high tech field. The first factor is the founder, Dr. Inamori's powerful leadership. The second is the strong corporate culture or philosophy of the firm. The third element in Kyocera's success is the company's management systems, i.e. the "amoeba" system of profit centers. This system is bound together by an interactive level of meetings and the strong philosophy of the company which emphasizes both creativity and working toward a higher goal for the good of the company. This philosophy of a higher common goal prevents infighting amongst profit centers and preserves a unity of purpose, while encouraging a great deal of individual autonomy and creativity through the management system. This system in conjunction with the philosophy also promotes multiple levels of leadership and individual initiative throughout the firm. Dr. Inamori's leadership communicates this philosophy to the employees.

    Keywords: Customer Relationship Management; Hardware; Leadership Style; Management Systems; Management Style; Organizational Culture; Practice; Profit; Planning; Technology Industry; Electronics Industry;


    Kotter, John P. "Kyocera Corp." Harvard Business School Case 491-078, March 1991. (Revised July 1993.) View Details
  7. Cultural Change at Nissan Motors

    Depicts the reformation of Nissan Motor Co.'s corporate culture and the company's subsequent turnaround in market share and profits. In 1985, Yutaka Kume became president of Nissan and thereafter, he continually emphasized the need for internal change throughout the organization. Despite the difficulty of effecting widespread change in such a large organization, Nissan's managers and employees got behind this effort. By 1990, there was a discernable difference in Nissan's image and product. The infamous "econo-boxes" of the early 1980s had been replaced by sleek new models like the Silva (240sx). This case explores many of the changes which took place throughout the organization to make such cultural change possible and effective, from the top management level, to the design department, to the assembly line. Also examines the difficulty and time needed to make lasting change in an organization.

    Keywords: Organizational Change and Adaptation; Organizational Culture; Leadership; Behavior; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms; Change Management; Management; Auto Industry; Manufacturing Industry;


    Kotter, John P. "Cultural Change at Nissan Motors." Harvard Business School Case 491-079, February 1991. (Revised July 1993.) View Details
  8. British Airways: Question and Answer Session with Advanced Management Program Participants, November 15, 1991 Sir Colin Marshall Chief Executive

    Keywords: Air Transportation Industry;

  9. British Steel Corporation: The Korf Contract

    Traces a complex resource allocation decision facing British Steel in 1975. Students study the influences on the various managers involved in making the decision.

    Keywords: Resource Allocation; Decision Making; Management Teams; Metals and Minerals; Steel Industry; United Kingdom;


    Kotter, John P., and John M. Stengrevics. "British Steel Corporation: The Korf Contract." Harvard Business School Case 481-110, December 1980. (Revised September 1985.) View Details
  10. Megalith, Inc. -- Hay Associates (A)

    In 1969, Megalith centralized its financial and control functions. John Boyd, senior vice president for finance, hired four brilliant young managers to "bring the group out of the stone age." By 1975, this management team had created a near-perfect finance office of 630 employees. But two of the "young stars" have just quit, and Boyd is sure the constraints of salary ceilings are responsible. He talks with a compensation consultant (Hay Associates).

    Keywords: Management Teams; Compensation and Benefits; Motivation and Incentives; Problems and Challenges;


    Kotter, John P. "Megalith, Inc. -- Hay Associates (A)." Harvard Business School Case 476-107, January 1976. (Revised June 1984.) View Details
  11. Fred Henderson

    Focuses on the management style of Fred Henderson in the context of a relatively stable business environment within Xerox Corporation. To be contrasted with the case, Renn Zaphiropoulos and the videotape, A Day with Renn Zaphiropoulos (9-881-501), which are appropriate for a more dynamic environment.

    Keywords: Situation or Environment; Management Style; Consumer Products Industry; Electronics Industry;


    Kotter, John P. "Fred Henderson." Harvard Business School Case 480-043, December 1979. (Revised October 1983.) View Details
  12. Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc.

    Introduces the student to Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc., its business, its strategy, and its organization. Provides the necessary background for understanding the contributions of Mary Kay Ash, the company's founder and chairman.

    Keywords: Management Teams; Business Strategy; Organizations; Beauty and Cosmetics Industry;


    Kotter, John P. "Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc." Harvard Business School Case 481-126, January 1981. View Details
  13. Renn Zaphiropoulos, A Day with, Video

    Focuses on the management style of Renn Zaphiropoulos in the context of a rapidly changing segment of Xerox's business environment. To be contrasted with the videotape, Day with Fred Henderson (9-881-502) and the case, Fred Henderson (9-480-043).

    Keywords: Change Management; Management Style; Organizational Change and Adaptation;


    Kotter, John P. "Renn Zaphiropoulos, A Day with, Video." Harvard Business School Video Supplement 881-501, August 1980. View Details