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Celia Kirwan

MANAGING DIRECTOR

Celia serves as lead consultant on client engagements. She has worked across a range of industries: healthcare, financial services, agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, retail, non-profit, and government. She partners with leaders to unlock the full power of their organizations to achieve strategic, sustainable results faster than they believed possible. Celia has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sussex in England and a Master’s Degree in Geography from Boston University.

Why did you decide to work at Kotter?

If I look back at my consulting career, I have been drawn to different learning experiences in my quest to figure out what makes a difference. I started off in the world of ‘head’ and strategy where questions based around ‘what’ were constantly asked – what market, customers, opportunities for growth or cost reduction, etc. While strong at the ‘what’ questions, I felt a deficit in addressing client’s ‘how’ questions – ‘nice report, but what do I do differently myself and with my people on Monday morning?’ This lead me to more of a ‘heart’ space addressing the process end of the spectrum where I learned a great deal more about organizational culture, how culture truly can eat strategy for breakfast, and about the fundamental importance of leadership, engagement, and communication on the people side of change. How people need to want change rather than having it imposed upon them, and how being involved in the change process is a key contributor to making the change stick. From here, I wanted to help clients demonstrate results they did not feel were possible and see how success bred success. Working at Kotter feels like home. The four Kotter principles of management and leadership, have to vs. want to, head and heart, few vs. many are all ‘ahas!’ I have had in my own personal journey with change. I feel privileged to be working in a community that share the importance of needing both heart and head in change, coupled with a strong results and learning focus.

Who is your favorite leader?

Someone once asked me on my birthday who I’d like at my birthday party. I scanned my birthday newspaper and saw I shared the same birthday as Nelson Mandela, Richard Branson, and John Glenn. That would be quite an interesting party! Of all of them, I have always been inspired by Nelson Mandela as he could see what was possible for South Africa, stuck to his beliefs, endured 27 years in prison for them, and went on to become South Africa’s first black president. He was a trail blazer, and created great change in the world.

What challenges do you most enjoy helping your clients solve?

My passion comes from partnering with organizations to unlock their full power to achieve strategic and sustainable results. I have learned that what defines a result – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder and beyond that, readiness is the most important pre-requisite to helping clients get on a results path. Readiness conversations are always fascinating. Clients must confront what I’ve heard described as a ‘thorny bramble-hedge of personal and organizational crutches’ for change. Being able to see the brambles and still having the confidence and courage to go after what is important is something I will never tire of – it’s where growth comes from. Being part of that journey with clients at an individual, team, or organizational level is a privilege.

What’s got you thinking right now?

I have recently lost a parent. As I am working through my own personal grief, I am reflecting on the similarities and differences between the grief and the change process. So many things in our lives are out of our control, such as the timing of a death or an unforeseen external event that causes a rupture in an organization’s life or across a whole industry. But when things happen, whether unexpected or foreseen, we do have a choice in how we respond. Sometimes this choice is obscured in the shock of the event. Whether we as individuals or as groups of individuals in organizations bounce back strong to thrive, or get our gears stuck – sometimes almost paralyzed on a reactive fearful track, or somewhere in between is where I am currently spending time observing and musing. Watch this space!

Share something about you that would most surprise people.

I am a trained mediator. My desire to learn mediation stemmed from the desire to feel fully grounded while working with turbulent groups in often highly emotive situations to help the groups move forward. I have learned a great deal from mediation; it is a constant reminder of the basic human need to be heard and understood.