How To Excel as a Successful Leader in the First 90 Days

how to excel as a successful leader in 90 days

Master the transition to a new leadership role with Michael Watkins’ advice.

Ninety percent of leaders say the most challenging times they experience are the transitional periods, says Michael Watkins in The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter. Succeeding in the transitional period will dramatically increase your chances of long-term success in your new position.

how to excel as a successful leader

Image source

According to one extensive study, the average leader undergoes 13.5 transitions in their career, Watkins says. Thus, every leader needs to master the skill of making successful transitions. Here are the most important pieces of advice Watkins has for you as you step into your new position!


Common Traps to Avoid

New leaders often fall into seven common traps, Watkins found. Avoid doing these seven things as you enter a new position:

  • Sticking to only what you already know how to do. 
  • Creating change too quickly.
  • Setting vague or unrealistic objectives.
  • Taking on too much.
  • Acting like your solution is the only answer.
  • Ignoring the cultural elements of the role.
  • Neglecting relationships with those at your own level.

Making these seven common blunders during the transition period creates negative feedback loops, explains Watkins. To start building momentum from day 1, avoid these mistakes and create positive feedback loops through the following strategies that Watkins presents in his book. 


10 Strategies for Success

Here are ten ways to establish yourself as a competent leader. By deploying all of these strategies, you’ll flourish in your new role.

how to excel as a leader

Image source

Grow new skills.

As you move up the career ladder, the same skills that led you to succeed in your previous position will not ensure your success in the next. Instead, identify which new skills you need to thrive at the next level and work to build them.

Soak up knowledge about your new organization.

“Learning about a new organization can feel like drinking from a fire hose,” says Watkins. You need to understand its market, processes, culture, products, and all other aspects of the business. Take on a systematic approach to learning, as information overload can be overwhelming, he advises. Identify key subjects and ways to learn about them efficiently. 

Align your strategy with the current situation.

Analyze the context you’re diving into. What are the top three problems that the company is trying to solve? Is the company just starting up or unleashing a new product? Is it struggling to stay afloat? Or does the status quo prevail? By diagnosing the scenario you’re stepping into as accurately as possible, you can develop the right plan.

Gain early wins.

Scoring early wins will build morale and increase your credibility. Begin by identifying achievable objectives that will add value, based on the strategy you’ve established. These early wins will keep the momentum high.

Manage expectations with your boss.

Hold in-depth conversations with your boss about your goals, making sure to define and document deadlines, responsibilities, resources, the current context, your own development, and how you work best. Build a strong relationship and clarify expectations together.

Align strategy with vision.

Determine how you may need to realign your organization or team’s strategy to achieve its vision and goals. Then, identify how to bring that strategy to fruition. Do you need to make structure or process changes or ramp up certain skills to achieve the desired strategy? 

Build a strong team.

Restructure your team, if need be, and then refocus it on the strategy at hand. “Your willingness to make tough early personnel calls and your capacity to select the right people for the right positions are among the most important drivers of success during your transition and beyond,” says Watkins. Work to engage your direct reports to achieve your goals through the chosen strategy. 

Forge coalitions.

You won’t be working in a silo, so form strong coalitions with people in other functions who can support your work. Build mutually beneficial relationships with outside stakeholders, too. 

Stay balanced.

Strive to keep your equilibrium so you can think with a clear head. Maintaining balance will also help you stay emotionally centered so you can respond to challenges in a positive, rational way. “The right advice-and-counsel network is an indispensable resource,” says Watkins—and it will help you keep your balance. 

Accelerate growth.

Enhance your team’s skills in critical ways. Everyone is going through a period of transition, so support them in navigating it by nurturing their growth. 

Whether you have weeks to prepare or need to hit the ground running, Watkins’ advice will help you deliver value from day 1. You’ll establish an excellent reputation as you follow these tips, becoming an indispensable part of organizational leadership and learning how to excel as a successful leader. 




Michael D. Watkins, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter


Want to learn more about Melissa and our executive recruiting services, send us a message!
A vibrant graphic with the phrase "OH SHIP!" in large, colorful letters. The letter "O" is designed to look like a ship's porthole, and a seagull perches on the letter "H." The background features shades of blue, reminiscent of the sea—perfect imagery for your blog archive.

Never Miss 

another Show!

“Oh Ship!” is about celebrating the failures, sharing those stories, learning, and laughing along the way.

Melissa Pacheco

A smiling woman, identified as Melissa Pacheco, with long, straight blonde hair, wears a sleeveless bright pink top and stands in front of a plain beige background. She has a relaxed and friendly expression.

Called a “Recruiting Extraordinaire” with 15+ years of Digital Marketing and E-commerce recruiting experience, Melissa has worked with SapientNitro/Digitas, PwC and Robert Graham.

Start a Conversation Linked In

Blog Categories

Our Approach

Our Practices