Leading Change

Many people writing and reading this blog are interested in change.  We think both on smaller and on larger scales, from the injustices in our profession to those in our society and onto those afffecting subordinated people around the world.

I am wondering how many of us look to the business management literature for some ideas about what can be done, and what we are not doing yet.  When I offered to head up a scientific research group, and later when I was heading of the faculty organization, I reckoned I had better read a lot to get some ideas of what worked and what didn’t work.

I think I got a lot of help.  For example, one model of leadership – you pick your favorite group and meet behind closed doors to decide on initiatives which you present to the others – is ubiquitous in academia.  It is, however, not a good model for changing a culture.  John Kotter, at Harvard, was one of the leaders in enabling people to see how one should not do that, to put it roughly, and he drew up alternative models of change effective leadership styles.

I was thinking of this today since a newsletter from a management consultancy firm came into my mailbox.  It was selling a book, of course.  But the book was about the difficulty of change, how there is always great resistence to change, and about how to work with that, how to absorb the resisters into partnerships.  Sounds like what we want to do.

One other figure in the business management field I want to mention is Rosabeth Kantor.  I first encountered her as someone to read when I took a summer course for feminism for faculty at Rutgers in the 1980’s.  One of her leading thoughts, it seemed to me then, was how being outsiders in organizations (e.g., the token person of color, disabled person, etc) could get your head screwed up and turn you into someone you didn’t really want to be.  (That’s my take on her take, and not exactly what she said.)

One thing that I used to read regularly was the Harvard Business School Newsletter.  It’s fun to come to understand more fully why things your university is doing are pointless or counterproductive.  Looking for it today I found two interesting things.  One is an interview with Kantor:


and the other I found when I googled “Harvard Business School letter.”  I discovered a lot of templates for letters of recommendation.  Not bad ones at all.

So, should we all rush out and get some management books?  If not, why not in some way look through the literature?

Have a look at the Kantor interview.  What do you think?