ATLIS Reads: The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins

In this blog post, Lisa Lamont helps us unpack the key principles of The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins, which technology leaders can use to launch a program, initiative, or new job. Lamont, who is the Director of Innovation and Institutional Learning at Hopkins School (CT), shares her discussion questions for the next conversation for our new seminar, ATLIS Reads: A Book Seminar for Technology Thought Leaders, scheduled for October 23 at 1 pm EDT. Register  for one of the few remaining spots in this series of live webinar conversations around the theme of leadership literacies, augmented with a reflective seminar micro-course (ATLIS members: no charge; non-members, $129). Learn more about the seminar here. -- SD

[10-minute read]

Guest Blogger: Lisa Lamont, Director of Innovation and Institutional Learning, Hopkins School, CT

Book Cover: First 90 DaysThe First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins is one of the most practical leadership texts I have read. It was recommended to me by a fellow independent school tech leader when I was in the process of conducting a national job search. It was truly instrumental in helping me make a successful transition to my new role at Hopkins School in 2017. 

Recently, I began thinking about leadership literacies for technology leaders, and I decided to revisit this text.  Specifically, I wondered how one could apply the leadership principles that helped me be successful starting out at a new school to the continually evolving responsibilities that we as tech leaders face in our roles every day. Whether you are stepping into a leadership role in a new school, were promoted recently within your organization, are leading a new team or project, this book offers concrete advice to allow you to approach the transition with fresh eyes and set you up for success!


Watkins' book is divided into key principles which you can apply to creating a plan for success regardless of whether you are transitioning roles or just transitioning your thinking.

  1. Promote Yourself. No, this one isn’t about self-promotion. This is about getting yourself into the mindset necessary to take on your new position, role or project. This could mean taking time off in between transitioning jobs or just mentally allowing yourself to release one position or role before starting another. Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a new professional development committee. I applied this principle to thinking about how I would lead this new team and spent time thinking about how I would lead in this new environment, even rethinking where and how we meet. 

  2. Accelerate your learning. For leaders new and seasoned, I believe one of the most important qualities we can have is curiosity. Whether it is learning about your new organization, department or project, figure out a plan to learn as much as possible from as many people as possible. 

  3. Match strategy to situation. I find this one to be one of the most helpful and broadly applicable sections of the book. Watson uses what he calls the STARS model to explain where organizations, departments or teams are in their strategic process. STARS stands for: Startup, Turnaround, Accelerated Growth, Realignment, and Sustaining Success. The truth is that aspects of our organizations are in each of these categories all the time. For example, your school might be in a Sustaining success mindset for your 1-1 program, but in the Startup phase for your maker program. Each circumstance lends itself to different strategies.

  4. Secure early wins. Whether it’s for a new position or a new project, you should set proximal achievable goals that demonstrate success in the short term. This builds trust and confidence. 

  5. Negotiate success. Communication and clarity are key. Whether it is with your direct supervisor or someone you are ultimately serving with your project, you should work to clarify what success looks like. As you are planning for your first 90-days in a new position or the first 90-days of a new initiative, work to identify markers for success along the way and make sure that the trustees, your boss, or whomever is evaluating your performance agrees with you.

The First 90 Days Discussion Questions

  • What new role, project or team will you be taking on soon? What are some ways that you can Promote Yourself to begin thinking about it in a different way?
  • How do you get curious to Accelerate Your Learning? Who do you need to learn from within and outside of your organization for your next move?
  • One of the most challenging places a school can be in strategically is the Realignment phase, because part of the challenge is convincing people of a need for change. Is there an aspect of your school that is in need of a realignment? What are some strategies you can use?
  • What are some strategies for achieving meaningful Early Wins? 
  • Who do you directly report to? How do you create a shared idea of success with your boss?


Book Excerpt
Michael D. Watkins, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.

Jane Bianchi, “How to Ace Your New Job," Forbes, 11 June 2014.

Ryan Hawk, “Episode #180: Michael Watkins – The First 90 Days: How To Ensure Success In Your New Role,” 12 December 2016.

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