Unwary new leaders can fall into some common traps, says Michael D. Watkins in ‘The First 90 Days’ (www.tatamcgrawhill.com). The first of the five traps that he lists is the failure to focus. “It is all too easy to take on too much during a transition, and the results can be ruinous. You can end like Steven Leacock’s befuddled horseman, who ‘flung himself on his horse and rode off madly in all directions.’” The advice to leaders, therefore, is ‘to identify promising opportunities and then focus relentlessly on translating them into wins.’

The second flaw can be to ignore the business situation. What constitutes an early win will differ dramatically from one business situation to another, Watkins cautions. For instance, “Simply getting people to talk about the organisation and its challenges can be a big accomplishment in a realignment but a waste of time in a turnaround. Think tactically about what will build momentum best.”

The third in the list of nooses is the lack of adjustment to culture, something which can especially afflict leaders who come into an organisation from the outside. The author describes, as an example, how a win can mean different things. “In some companies, a win has to be a visible individual accomplishment. In others, individual pursuit of glory, even if it achieves good results, is viewed as grandstanding and destructive of teamwork.”

Of great relevance to most of us should be the fourth snare: ‘Failing to get wins that matter to your boss.’ It is essential to get early wins that energise your direct reports and other employees, but your boss’ opinion about your accomplishments is critically important too, Watkins counsels.

“Even if you do not fully endorse his or her priorities, you have to make them central in thinking through what early wins you will aim for. Addressing problems that your boss cares about will go a long way toward building credibility and cementing your access to resources.”

And the last ambush you have to steer clear from is letting your means undermine your ends. Process matters, Watkins emphasises. If you achieve impressive results in a manner that is seen as manipulative, underhanded, or inconsistent with the culture, you are setting yourself up for trouble, he notes. “An early win that is accomplished in a way that exemplifies the behaviour you hope to instil in your new organisation is a double win.”

Imperative read for new leaders.

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