Counter Any Attack

Counter Any Attack

Bestselling leadership professor John P. Kotter and innovator Lorne A. Whitehead offer a detailed set of counterattack tactics for anyone who challenges your proposals. 

Conversational Guidance

John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead excel in offering strategic consulting relating to leadership and change. They speak from positions of knowledge. Kotter is the Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School and Whitehead is the Leader of Education Innovation at the University of British Columbia.

In this bantering, conversational guide, they convincingly demonstrate how to present any new idea, how to prepare for likely attacks on your idea and how to guide your concept to triumph.

They also present a teaching fable that seems to have little purpose, especially given their clear, direct and effective tactical advice. Those seeking the latter can easily skip ahead past the former.


Your belief in your worthwhile ideas is never enough to win the day. For your proposals to succeed, you must garner widespread support. Resisting change is human nature, the authors note, as they list certain archetypes of those who resist new ideas. For example, the “Pompus Meani” is a blowhard who will derail proposals out of self-interest. The“Avoidus Riski” will claim your new idea carries too much uncertainty. “Heidi Agenda” will conceal his or her hidden motive for trying to thwart your idea, and “Bendi Windi” changes with the mood of the room.


The competent creation and implementation of good ideas is a basic life skill.John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead

With the heft of their knowledge, the authors could easily have explained their archetypes without cute names, which either will make you smile or lead you to toss the book across the room – which getAbstract does not recommend if you read e-books on your tablet or phone.


Kotter and Whitehead’s taxonomy of the kinds of attacks your ideas may attract include confusion, sown by those who raise extraneous objections; delay, brought about by posting seemingly logical questions to stall the “buy-in” process; fear-mongering to increase people’s anxiety; and attacking you, not your idea. Repel such counterattacks with preparation by using one simple method.

“The Method”

The authors advise you to gain people’s attention by seizing their thoughts and emotions. One way to do this is to confuse your enemies by welcoming their attacks, a strategy which draws and holds people’s interest. Then, describe your proposition in a simple, understandable way. Avoid jargon, statistics, facts and lists. Stay calmly focused.

Don’t run away from attacks; go toward them. It will save good ideas.John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead

Never refute attackers point-by-point. Treat your detractors and skeptics kindly. Control your emotions, thank your attackers for their concern and restate your proposition. Your audience will respect you, and that respect will transfer to your idea.


Pre-pitch, read your material. Consider potential attacks from people and how you should respond. Pitch with calmness and confidence.

Consider the attacks you may encounter so you can devise the right rebuff. Likely attacks may include arguing for the status quo’s illusion of safety. If so, cite the Roman Empire or General Motors as examples of what happens if you fail to change with the times. Attacks about spending can seem bulletproof, but they aren’t, Kotter and Whitehead say. They advise pointing out that successful companies and prospective enterprises don’t get sidetracked by concerns about spending and that your idea will pay for itself.

Those who feel threatened by your plan may claim you’re implying they’ve underperformed. Reply that your attackers have been doing a good job without crucial tools, which your idea will provide for them. If someone accuses you of inventing a problem, the authors say, mention the honorable record and reputation of those who support your proposal, and ask if they would support a fantasy.

The amount of thought and education put into creating good ideas is far higher today than the knowledge and instruction on how to implement those ideas. John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead

Attackers may reveal something you forgot about your proposal at a strategic moment to embarrass you. Explain that you found solutions for all the other issues you examined, and you will resolve this new one, too. The authors urge you to remind audience members that their questions, thoughts and concerns are helping you strengthen your plan.

An attacker may claim that he or she doesn’t understand your plan in the guise of a sympathetic remark, feigning concern. Assure him or her that you will help people grasp the idea; then explain it clearly. Answer attacks about your timing by saying that the right time is any time that people are ready and eager to act on an idea, which, in the case of your proposal, is right now.

When people feel they are working too hard for not enough money, the authors warn, they may say your plan entails too much work. Simply say that any worthwhile pursuit takes effort, and your plan will give those who work on it great satisfaction. Attackers may suggest your idea will end in catastrophe. Counter them by stating that sensible implementation of your proposal will protect the organization from disaster.

People who buy into a vision look for ways to help the change effort without being instructed. John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead

Even people who agree that money is not the real issue and that your idea has merit may feel your proposal is financially impossible. Remind them that throughout history, most significant innovations came about without needing infusions from previously untapped sources of funding. Some will claim you will never achieve unanimous agreement. Answer this attack by confirming that you probably won’t get everyone’s approval. Then remind them that history proves that almost no idea ever, no matter how clearly great, gained unanimous agreement prior to its implementation.

Some people may fear your firm hasn’t the skills or equipment or people to implement your idea. Calm the waters by saying you have what you need to begin making your idea a reality, and that you will obtain anything else necessary.


Kotter is always immensely readable, and Whitehead leavens Kotter’s sometimes overdrawn wit with hard-nosed but humane advice. In this, their only collaboration, they prove a smart and steady team, and they highlight one another’s strengths. Plus, they are never dull. Throughout the narrative and the authors’ analysis that follows, Kotter and Whitehead’s strategies emerge clearly. You will read their lessons quickly. The first half of the book seems nowhere near as necessary as the second, but even so, this strategy guide will help anyone who has to persuade anybody, anywhere, to get anything done. 

John P. Kotter’s books include Leading Change; Matsushita Leadership; Power and Influence: Beyond Formal Authority; and A Sense of Urgency. He co-wrote Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions with Holger Rathgeber.


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