Book Review

A Sense of Urgency

by John P. Kotter, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 2008, 128 pp., $22 hardcover

Two years ago at the AASA National Conference on Education, John Kotter presented his eight-step framework for successful organizational change. According to Kotter, leaders must advocate the need for change and navigate their organizations safely through the turbulence caused by that change.

A Sense of Urgency


If you enjoyed Leading Change, The Heart of Change and Our Iceberg Is Melting, you will discover Kotter’s latest book, A Sense of Urgency, digs deeper into the need for leaders to develop a sense of true constructive urgency within their organizations.

While the focus in this book is on lessons gleaned from engaging stories in corporate cultures, there are many applicable lessons for school administrators who lead school- and districtwide reform efforts. Specifically, Kotter presents strategies for how to motivate people to push through and sustain routine changes and large-scale initiatives.

This book also provides observations and tactics to combat complacency and a false sense of urgency. Kotter details the need to develop a true sense of urgency by offering strategies to win the hearts and minds of people.

Of particular value is the chapter on how to deal with skeptics and the “NoNo” problem. (NoNo is a character in Our Iceberg Is Melting who is adept at protecting the status quo and blocking progress.) Every organization has at least one naysayer, and more likely several, who uses disruptive tactics to delay action, make groups not function well and operate with a closed mind.

A Sense of Urgency could easily be used in study groups with all levels of staff.

Reviewed by Henry Kiernan, superintendent, Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, Merrick, N.Y.