The one-sentence summary

Leading change is about being honest and clear, building teams full of thriving people, and finding your maximum point of impact.

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  • Most importantly, it’s about taking action, and this book aims to tell you how. Action is about ‘freeing the sledge’ that is stuck and getting started. There are 8 suggested steps:
  1. Baseline. You need to understand the situation you find yourself in today and use that to overcome the initial inertia that resists change. You can’t fix something if you don’t know what it is you’re trying to fix. Aim for clarity and accuracy, uncover what is hidden, and share what you learn.
  2. Communication. It is so important when leading change. Write for the audience, not yourself. State your objectives, be focused, and communicate frequently and consistently.
  3. Objective. It is essential to develop an effective objective. Take a common task and do it uncommonly well by showing genuine ambition and fostering collective ownership.
  4. Breaking free. Urgency and energy are critical to get started. Convince the team that change is not just desirable, but that it is going to happen, and fast. Tomorrow is going to be different to today.
  5. Teams. The more great leaders you have, the quicker you’ll achieve your goals.
  6. Schwerpunkt. This is the point of maximum effort, where to focus. The word comes from a Prussian general who argued that, rather than spreading your forces evenly along the battlefront, you should choose one specific point and concentrate all effort there. It’s about achieving relative improvement of performance when measured against your other Key Performance Indicators.
  7. Culture. Ultimately, all organisational change is culture change. Successful leaders understand that they cannot do it alone. They need to find their First Five – a small tight-knit group of people that they trust, with whom they can be vulnerable and problem solve without fear or favour. They must share the ambition and values and be brutally honest.
  8. OODA. Stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The end of the beginning leads to a continual loop of change.


  • The Uniqueness Trap is the endless search for ‘perfect’ objectives, but there’s no such thing. Keep it simple and get on with it.
  • Another pitfall is to try to change everything, but it doesn’t work.
  • Team performance = talent x culture.
  • When leading change, there are 4 roles your objective should play:
  1. Set destination and direction
  2. Aid decision-making
  3. Build coalitions
  4. Enable alignment
  • If you are serious about change, then incrementalism doesn’t work. Small adjustments don’t get you where you want to go fast enough.
  • Naysayers need to be triaged, ignored, converted, or cauterised. Triage means identifying the most stubborn areas of resistance and working out how important they really are to your mission. Cauterise is a euphemism for firing those who simply won’t change.
  • “Talent is simply an excuse we use to explain the performance of others.” Daniel Chambliss, Hamilton College Professor


  • By the author’s own admission, laying out the principles of change is relatively easy. The problem, as always, is that carrying them out is very difficult.