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Book Review: ‘That’s Not How We Do It Here!’ by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

That’s Not How We Do It Here: About the Book

From the bestselling authors of ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber comes their latest release ‘That’s Not How We Do It Here’. They call it ‘A story about how organisations rise and fall- and can rise again’. A leadership and management book.

This book was £10.99 and about 150 pages. It contains around 30,000 words which would take the average reader about 2.5 hours to read, with 60% comprehension.

That's not how we do it here book cover

Overview of the Story

Prof. John Kotter (Harvard Business School) writes this lesson in leadership and management as a story about a clan of meerkats living in Kalahari, a region in the Southern part of the African continent. Following a drought, the clan’s resources have been significantly reduced, and vulture attacks had increased.  Facing a dire situation, the executive team lacked agreement on a way forward.  However, when front-line meerkats offered suggestions the response was always:

‘That’s not how we do it here!’

The story follows Nadia, a meerkat that has become despondent with their colonies poor management. To get some new ideas, Nadia decides to hit the road and travel from one colony to another.  During the journey, she finds that some colonies are well managed and some are managed poorly. Simerly, she finds that some are well led and some suffered from chaotic leadership.

The story is easy to read with clear parallels for modern managers. Drawing analogies between these brown furry creatures, that seem to ‘only’ live to eat and reproduce, versus our more complex corporate businesses, is surprisingly clear.

Moral of the Story

The moral of the story is that some companies, or colonies in Nadia’s world, are well managed and some are well led. However, very few are both well led and well managed. Nadia’s challenge is to work out how to combine the best of both worlds – a large, disciplined, well-managed clan and a small, informal, inspiring clan to allow hers to thrive once again.

Kotter cleverly uses the story to highlight the importance of the two styles of leading an organisation (leadership and management) to work and function together, rather than compete. 

A conundrum, or magic formula, that is hard to achieve in the modern business world!

Applying Business Tools…

Page 147 contains a diagram that perfectly summed-up the leadership vs. management ‘problem’ in the form of a matrix:

Image of leadership vs. management matrix

Source: J. Kotter and H. Rathgeber

Final Thoughts

To illustrate, these four boxes (above) show the problem most companies face. They are rarely top right.  Most tend to fall into the bottom right quadrant, well managed but lack the capacity to innovate and adapt.  Whilst not the worst case scenario, a lack of vision will ultimately, over the long term, reduce an organisation’s competitive position.  It will open up the prospect of attack, not from vultures as in Nadia’s case, but from competitors taking the initiative and with it a sustainable competitive advantage.

For more on leadership skills, you can read our Ultimate Guide to Leadership.  Also, take a look at our award-winning blog to see more book reviews.  Don’t want to take our word for it? Here’s a list of 11 books Elon Musk thinks everyone should read.

Darren A. Smith

About Darren A. Smith

Darren has been working in the world of UK Supermarkets and Suppliers for over 20 years. He began his career as a buyer at one of the big 4 UK supermarkets and after rising through the ranks he decided to leave after 13 years and set-up Making Business Matter. For the last 14 years he has run MBM, which is a training provider to the UK grocery industry. Helping suppliers to the big four supermarkets to develop the soft skills that will secure them more profitable wins.

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