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Michael Watkins is the best selling author of The First 90 Days and Master Your Next Move: The Essential Companion to The First 90 Days, published by Harvard Business Review Press. He is the Co-Founder of Genesis, a global leadership development consultancy based in Boston, MA where he coaches CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. He is also Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the IMD Business School in Switzerland where he teaches two open programs for leaders in transition, including a 2-day First 90 Days Course popular with global organisations headquartered in the region. He formerly served as faculty at The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Harvard Business School, and INSEAD.

In our conversation, we speak about his perspectives around ROI of Transition Support for a leader who is moving in and the timelines that we should bear in mind when we think about transitions. We then spent time discussing three different types of transitions which are covered in details in his recently published book (Master your Next Move) – 1) CXO to CEO transition 2) Leading former peers and 3) On Boarding a new Leader. We spoke about some of the missed opportunities when companies and the leaders approach these situations.

Published in May 2019.

ROI of transition support

Michael speaks about the business case for Transition Advisory support when leaders take on a new role (internal or external transition). While is it is understood that it is lonely at the top, it is worth recognizing that it is lonelier when you are settling into a new context when leaders do not have an asset of relationships to count on (yet) and don’t have meaningful feedback loops that gives them a sense of how they are doing.

Creating the mind-space

Michael speaks about what it takes to get leaders to allocate mind-space to their transition while they are settling into a new context. He strongly suggests that we start working on transitions early (even before the leader comes in) so that it feels like a natural part of settling in rather than a separate list of things that one needs to do and as a potential distraction to the job at hand.

The Transition timeline

Michael speaks about how the various elements of transition that get addressed over a 6-12 month period. He talks about the fact that even in well meaning organizations, there is a risk of overloading the leader’s calendar with “stuff” to do and not really solving for what the leader wants. He speaks about the criticality of elements such as communication, arrival posture and alliances and the timing of when these elements matter.

Fit for purpose feedback loop

Michael speaks about the sub-optimality in feedback loops when a new leader comes into an organization. He speaks about the relevance of early conversations with the stakeholders and Day 90/120 conversations to ensure that leaders get tailored constructive feedback to ensure that they are able to course correct early in their journeys.

CXO to CEO transition

Michael speaks about the key shift when a leader transitions from functional leadership to General Management. He speaks about the default anchoring that people often come with when they move from a function to a General Management role. He specifically speaks about adjusting the unit of analysis and the notion of managing in the white spaces which becomes critical as a General Manager.

Warrior to diplomat

Michael speaks about the criticality of leaders transitioning from a competitive mindset to a collaborative mindset where they focus on building alliances and identify opportunities for cross-company collaboration, often even reaching out to rivals to co-create opportunities for the organization.

Leading former peers

Michael lays out the key challenges involved when a leader gets promoted and transitions to a context where he/she has to lead a team with several individuals who used to be his/her peers earlier. He gives some useful insights on how leaders could think about re-engineering the relationships while walking the tight rope between being a “Napoleon” and a “Super-peer”.

When a promotion may not make sense

Michael speaks about how leaders could end up making a mistake by following the “default momentum” in their corporate journeys. He says that it is surprisingly easy to make yourself unhappy by the choices you make at senior levels. He talks about the need to pause and take stock of the opportunity even if it means that it is the natural rite of passage to the top of the organization.

Mapping the influence landscape

Michael speaks about the criticality of navigating the influence landscape especially when one gets into a Corporate Diplomacy challenge where things get done more through influence than through authority. To get things done, one needs to work through the network of allies that one has in the system. Michael speaks about some of the elements of transition involved here and talks about why engineers often struggle with this.

Onboarding a leader

Michael speaks about the criticality of assimilating into an organization without triggering the immune system that could easily start working against you. He goes on to say that even if you have been hired as a change agent, earn the right to drive change before you start moving things around (unless it is a turnaround and shock therapy is warranted) in the new organization.

Entrepreneur bringing in an experienced CEO

Michael speaks about the specific challenge when start up entrepreneurs bring in seasoned leaders as they transition from a start-up context to a scale up context. He talks about some of the elements that the entrepreneur and the incoming leader need to bear in mind. 

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