A Blueprint for the New Leader to Effect Change

The transition from one presidential administration to another is nearly complete and the country is visibly excited.

There is no doubt that part of this excitement stems from public’s sense that Mr. Obama has demonstrated extraordinary effort in planning his presidency. He certainly seems to be working diligently to avoid the consequences of the aphorism, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Our country seems to appreciate the efforts of the President-elect and this is reflected in his approval ratings which are remarkably high.

There have been numerous books written on how a new leader should take charge and this seems like a great time to look at how Mr. Obama should be approaching this important initial period. One of my favorite books on this topic is The First 90 Days by Harvard Professor Michael Watkins.

Watkins’ work is instructive for all of us, but in the context of this “new beginning” one can see the areas that Mr. Obama has been addressing and which ones he will likely be focusing on in the days ahead.

Here’s the short list.

1)     Promote Yourself. Psychologically break from your previous role in order to take charge of your new role. You are likely to need new skills to be successful at this new level.

2)     Accelerate Your Learning. Focus on understanding markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures as well as its culture and polities. Do this systematically.

3)     Match Strategy to Solution. Diagnose whether you are in a start-up, turnaround, realignment, or sustaining success situation. Each requires a different strategy. You may have different parts of your organization in different situations.

4)     Secure Early Wins. Early wins build credibility and create momentum.

5)     Negotiate Success. Figure out how to build a productive relationship with your boss and manage his or her expectations. This means critical conversations about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development. Gain consensus on your 90 day plan.

6)     Achieve Alignment. This is a strategic role. The higher that you rise within the organization, the more that you have to play the role of strategic architect. This means evaluating strategy, developing appropriate organizational structures, and developing the systems and skills necessary to realize your strategic intent.

7)     Build Your Team. Inheriting a team frequently means restructuring it to better meet the demands of the situation.

8)     Create Coalitions. Develop supportive alliances, both internal and external. Identify them now as well as ways to line them up on your side.

9)     Keep Your Balance. Develop a network that can advise and counsel you so that you do not lose perspective. It can be difficult to look out from the inside.

10)  Expedite Everyone. Help everyone accelerate their own transitions to their new roles.

This week, we’ll talk more about the bottom half of this list.

* * *

Now some thoughts about President Bush as he leaves office…

Without a doubt, the Bush Administration left us with far too many challenges. We should, however, also acknowledge that there were no further attacks on American soil after 9/11. At that time, we were shaken and disheartened and scared and whether by intention or good fortune, the Bush Administration did keep us safe at home and helped us to reclaim our sense of balance.

We likely will never know if we were safe by design or by the Good Lord watching over us (or, of course, both) nor will we probably ever know how many plots to hurt our fellow citizens were thwarted.

Still, if we choose to discredit this Administration for the financial situation we find ourselves in today and the war in Iran, for our safety after 9/11, we should express our appreciation. The Bush administration also looks to have worked diligently during this transition period and that will, without a doubt, help the new president in moving us forward. Thank you, President Bush.

Let us also take a moment to remember that we are still blessed to live in a country that has the greatest opportunities and the most remarkable freedoms.

And now on to new beginnings and may the best be yet to come.

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