book: “The First 90 Days”

cover of bookWe launch Career Bibliophile with an infuriatingly dense and extremely helpful Little Big Book of wonders: The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins, a book for readers starting in a new position of direct and highly responsible leadership. The book will be most useful for those in very high positions, say vice president or project portfolio manager or above, or for anyone taking on a new and highly unfamiliar leadership position at any level.

As a side note, one unexpected target reader came to mind: new assistant professors at research universities, who must suddenly handle budgets, projects like setting up labs, managing graduate students, collaborating on research (if they’re smart); and presenting difficult (only recently learned) material to large, hostile classes–all of this at once, and typically absent any management mentoring whatever. As a new professor, I would have killed to have this book.

This is one of very few business books (or books of any kind) whose every page carries a challenge to the reader to do the right thing. It’s a slow read, even though only 230 smallish pages, but not because of its style. No, you don’t get off that easily. The style is appropriate to the dense content, and I can assure you that it is extraordinarily well edited, lean as can be. Every page feeds you content you must think about, sometimes deeply. And almost every page shows you how profitably to take time to plan how you’re going to spend those precious, exhilarating, and terrifying first 3+ months of a new and unfamiliar leadership position.

As for me, “a new and unfamiliar leadership position” seems in my near future, one happy way or another. The First 90 Days will be my Owner’s Manual for the new job and its demands, before my eyes by day, under my pillow by night.

If you actually do what this book demands–and by book’s end I was persuaded that you must–then it would be very hard to fail badly. Read, then Do, and with confidence. Prescriptive books can’t offer more than that.

Definitely five stars.

“The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels”, Michael Watkins, 2003, Harvard Business School Press.

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