The first ninety(ish) days

In the business world, the concept of “the first ninety days” in job transitions is nothing new. Unsurprisingly, this is a concept that has been top of mind for me for the last 90-ish days as I’ve settled into a new department and new responsibilities. I know I’m not the first to have a change like this and I’m well aware that I won’t be the last- but I did want to share what have been my guiding principles in navigating this critical time.

  • BoozhooI learned about this important Anishinaabe concept reading for my graduate work last year. Simplified, it means we have an agreement to learn from each other and we will respect each other. I more recently encountered it again introduced as “how to arrive”- and it truly is how we should arrive in a new space regardless of where we sit- or aspire to sit- in the power structure. Note: Eddy Rogers has a great TedX talk that starts with this concept, then moves into his own Indigenous journey to leadership. An important corollary to boozhoo is to remember that you are never too senior to shamelessly ask questions as you’re learning the ways and people of a place. If you can find a cultural interpreter to support you as you settle in, all the better.
  • Names matter- I would argue that one of the single best leadership tips I’ve ever received is to learn the names of everyone who surrounds you and who works with you in any way (this applies to static situations as well as new ones). Think about how special you feel when someone knows your name, particularly when it’s someone who is advantaged in the hierarchy. In contrast, think about times you’ve had someone in power who has willfully failed to learn your name and how that made you feel. Learn EVERYONE’S name, and use their names in interactions. It’s a matter of simple respect. And for heaven’s sake, learn to pronounce their name correctly!
  • Lead with gentleness and curiosity– It seems intuitive that you shouldn’t be a bull in a china shop, so to speak, and in spite of that I’ve seen plenty of leaders who are new to an institution and who come in immediately intent upon changing almost everything, and they’re unkind in how they do so. Generally the changes they drive aren’t sustainable. In the process, they alienate talented people who are already there and who have been working hard for a long time. Don’t be those leaders. In contrast, I have seen new leaders who have come in, listened intently, shared with kindness, and who have had an outsized impact in a very short time because of how they interact with people. Which way would you prefer to be remembered?
  • It’s not a sprint– You’re not going to know your way around the building in a week, and you’re not going to understand all of the systems and people and history and interactions in a week either. As an almost lifelong distance runner, the idea of pacing is all-but-intuitive to me; I’ve run plenty of half marathons where I’ve seen people go out hot in the first 6 miles and I pass them up at mile 10 because they ran out of steam. If you’re planning on staying, you have all the time in the world to learn the intricacies of everything.

I know that none of these ideas are entirely novel, and I also know that none of them seem terribly complex. Three of the four are fundamentally rooted in being respectful to your fellow beings. And yet…they simply aren’t used as much as they probably should be.

Change is intrinsically hard. Hopefully these ideas make it a little bit easier.