Ep 119: Your First 90 Days as an Executive Director (with Michael Watkins)

by Joan Garry

There are steps can be taken to ensure success and begin the process of crafting your legacy as a leader, even BEFORE you take on a new role.


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The first 90 days on the job.

You might think this podcast is for someone on their very first day as a new nonprofit executive director. But I want you to think broader than that.

What steps can be taken to ensure success and begin the process of crafting your legacy as a leader, even BEFORE you take on a new role?

In this episode, Michael Watkins, author of “The First 90 Days” (named one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time!) shares key strategies to a successful transition. What are the typical pitfalls and what must a leader really get right in the first three months? Does anything change if you arrive during a crisis, like say… a global pandemic?

Learn the key principles a leader can use to help an organization succeed and thrive, and also what might thwart their success.

Michael Watkins is THE expert on this topic, and I could not be more excited to have him on the podcast.

About Michael Watkins

Michael Watkins is the co-founder of Genesis Advisers, a global leadership development consultancy based in Boston Massachusetts, specializing in transition acceleration for leaders, teams and organizations, where he coaches C-level executives of global organizations. He is also Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the IMD Business School and was recently ranked among the top fifty management thinkers globally by Thinkers50. He has spent the last two decades working with executives – both corporate and public – as they craft their legacies as leaders.

Watkins is author of the international bestseller The First 90 Days, Updated and Expanded: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, which The Economist referred to as “The Onboarding Bible.” With over a million copies sold in English and translations in 24 languages, The First 90 Days is the classic reference for leaders in transition and a standard resource for leading change. Amazon named it one of its top 100 business books of all time.

Prior to joining IMD, Watkins was an adjunct professor at INSEAD, and an associate professor at the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. While on the faculty of these institutions, he designed and taught world-class programs for high- potential leader development, corporate diplomacy, and strategic negotiation.

He is the author of eleven books and numerous articles on leadership and negotiation. In the field of leadership these include Master Your Next Move: The Essential Companion to The First 90 Days (HBR Press 2019), Shaping the Game: The New Leader’s Guide to Effective Negotiating (HBS Press 2006) and Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming and How to Avoid Them (HBS Press 2004). Predictable Surprises was named one of the best business books of 2004 by Strategy + Business and won the 2006 annual Kulp-Wright Award from The American Risk and Insurance Association. He is also the author of numerous Harvard Business Review articles, including “How Insider CEOs Succeed” (2020), “Initiative Overload” (2018), “Onboarding Isn’t Enough” (2017), “Leading the Team You Inherit” (2016), “It’s All About Day One” (2013), “How Managers Become Leaders” (2012), “Picking the Right Transition Strategy” (2009), “The Leadership Team: Complementary Strengths or Conflicting Agendas” (2007), and “The Successor’s Dilemma” (2000).

Originally from Canada, Michael Watkins received his undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Waterloo, did graduate work in law and business at the University of Western Ontario, and completed his Ph.D. in Decision Sciences at Harvard University.