Leading the first 100 days

Listening is one of the most important tasks for any leader in the first 100 days.

Today marks 100 days since NSW’s Premier Barry O’Farrell took office, and everyone is talking 100 day plans.  In politics, the term ‘first 100 days’ was used by US President Teddy Roosevelt on entering office in 1933. It is a symbolic period: three months; a season.

For leaders, listening is key to the first 100 days

For leaders, listening is key to the first 100 days

In business and organisations, the concept of the first 100 days was popularised over the last decade following the success of Michael Watkins’ 2003 book The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels

Watkins outlines a number of areas of focus for leaders for leaders following transition – taking up a new role. These include:

  • Self promotion
  • Learning the new environment
  • Adapting your strategy to the new situation
  • Achieving some early successes – and establishing a vision
  • Negotiating agreement with the boss
  • Aligning the organisation
  • Building the team
  • Establishing a stakeholder and supporter base
  • Keeping focused on the right things
  • Using change to maintain momentum

Many new leaders in organisations struggle with the balance of delivering quick wins that are based on the current organisation, not only on what has worked for them elsewhere. During these changes, one of the most important actions in listening. The challenge is for leaders to be honest enough to say ‘I don’t know yet’. The 90 day planning process is valuable because it builds in a period of information gathering and planning based on a diligent approach.

Organisational listening
In addition to being a key leadership skill, there are many ways to listen to an organisation.

While a leader does not need to go to the lengths of Shakespeare’ Henry V or Undercover Boss, there are some ways to listen effectively to the people in the organisation:

  • Visit the places where work is done – don’t summon people to head office.
  • Small groups allow for people to be heard. Don’t gather 100 people and ask them a question.
  • Ask open questions – “What are you working on at the moment?” “What would make that easier?”
  • Be authentic from the outset.
  • Where there may be concerns about an open culture, supplement dialogue with formal research such as independent focus groups or interviews, being open about the purpose and intent.

2 comments

  1. Jonathan,

    I totally agree with your promotion of listening in the first 100 days – and don’t stop after 100! What I’d add to your list of tips is:

    As you talk to people, you’re likely to be asked questions – make sure you answer authentically and accurately. If the answer is I don’t know, or I’m not sure yet, then say that! Ask people what they think should be done about issues they raise.

  2. Thanks Stephen for excellent addition. So many leaders undermine their own credibility by being afraid of uncertainty. Look out for part II next week on how to communicate authentically during times of change.

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