Book Review: The Leadership Lessons of Michael D. Watkins’ First 90 Days

Michael D. Watkins, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland (© IMD)

Are you going into a new role this new year? “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins, a distinguished thought leader in the realm of leadership and organizational change, is a game-changing handbook for professionals navigating the turbulent waters of a new leadership position. 

The book is structured to help readers understand the common challenges and pitfalls associated with leadership transitions. Watkins introduces a framework that emphasizes the importance of quickly assessing the business situation, securing early wins, building crucial alliances, and accelerating one’s learning curve. What sets this book apart is its practical approach. Watkins doesn’t just share theories, he provides real-world examples and tools to help leaders apply the concepts in their own situations. 

Here are my key takeaways and highlights from the book: 

  1. Transition Framework: Watkins introduces a framework for successful leadership transitions, emphasizing the importance of understanding the situation, securing early wins, and building momentum. 3 Critical Transitions: The author identifies three types of key transitions – promotion, onboarding to a new organization, and taking charge in a crisis. Each transition requires a different approach and set of strategies.
  2. Building Alliances: Establishing positive relationships and building alliances is crucial. Leaders need to identify key stakeholders, understand their perspectives, and align interests to gain support for their initiatives.
  3. Early Wins: Achieving quickly and early is essential to building credibility and establishing a positive track record. These wins help gain the confidence of the team and key stakeholders.

Whether you’re a new CEO, manager, or team leader, the book’s principles are adaptable and applicable across various professional settings. By addressing the human side of leadership, “The First 90 Days” becomes not just a strategic manual but also a guide for personal growth and resilience. Whether you’re inheriting a well-established team or spearheading a new initiative, he offers tailored advice that can be adapted to different leadership scenarios.

“Leadership ultimately is about influence and leverage. You are, after all, only one person. To be successful, you need to mobilize the energy of many others in your organization.”

Michael D. Watkins, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland.

Overall, “The First 90 Days” is a valuable resource for leaders at all levels. Its relevance extends beyond the initial three months, serving as a guide for ongoing career development and effective leadership. If you’re looking to make a significant impact in a new role, this book should be on your reading list.

Author Intro

“The First 90 Days” is written by Michael D. Watkins. He is not only an author but also an academic and consultant who specializes in leadership development and organizational change. As a professor at the Harvard Business School, he has taught and researched topics related to leadership, negotiation, and organizational behavior. This book is a go-to guide for leaders stepping into new roles, providing insights and frameworks to navigate the crucial first months in a new position successfully. His work is widely respected in the business and leadership community, making him a sought-after speaker, advisor and consultant.

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