Developing muscle memory in the new job

Here in Dar es Salaam, actually let me be more specific. Here in Masaki I have found a favorite trail to run on that is along the cliff lined coastline. It’s a beautiful stretch that reminds me how lucky I am to live in this amazing community on the coast of Tanzania. The trail is a bit tricky to maneuver with coral rock, cacti and the edge of the cliff. I find myself looking down and really focusing on where to land next. The coral rock doesn’t give when I land like a normal dirt trail might. On this stretch of my run my pace slows dramatically. I’m worried about falling, twisting an ankle, getting stuck by a spine or falling off the edge.

I find that I miss out on the view of the ocean and every so often I have to stop to look out to the horizon. There are Dhow fishing boats floating alongside large cargo ships and the water is bright green or blue.

Main Ocean View

The other day I realized that this is a metaphor for my most recent transition into a new job. In August, I started a new job as the Secondary Principal at the International School of Tanganyika. The move was a return to international schools after a brief two year stint in the United States. After 14 years of working in international schools I thought that my transition would be relatively easy. What I realized is that I have to really pay attention to the details rather than focusing on where we’re going in the future.The rocky path represents my efforts getting to know peoples’ names, reading the handbook, asking questions about how things work and the cultural norms. There is so much to learn in a new environment and I’m also a bit nervous about making mistakes especially since I haven’t been around long enough to build up the emotional bank account. I feel like early mistakes may lead to issues that are difficult to overcome. Just like a mistake on the trail.

The ocean and horizon represents looking to the future and seeing the big picture. The path is enjoyable, but it would just be any old path without the ocean view. The possibilities that are out there are immense, especially considering that what’s on the surface and below the waterline. By looking out on the horizon we can envision what the school will be like in the future, instead of the current situation. There is also the opportunity to take time to scan the horizon and consider what is possible. Maybe we decide to renovate the trail to better fit our vision.

I am hoping that the more time that I spend running that trail, the more comfortable I’ll become glancing out to the ocean. Hopefully I will develop muscle memory and my feet will just naturally adjust to the rock variations. I’ll also know at which points along the trail that I’ll have to watch out for the cacti and cliffs. The rest of the time I can comfortably run and enjoy the view of the Indian Ocean. Maybe then, I’ll feel like the transition is over and there will be a healthy mix of the day to day and planning for the future.

When you come to visit I’ll take you out on the trail to see for yourself.

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels

Cross posted on LeaderTalk.

Five years ago I used Michael Watkins‘ book, The First 90 Days to help me prepare for my transition into a new principalship and I plan to do the same with my next job. In August, I’ll become the High School Principal at the Escola Graduada de São Paulo, or as those of us in the international circuit refer to it, “Graded”. Graded is an American international school in Sao Paulo serving the children of host nationals and expatriates. I feel strongly that this book was a main reason that I was able to successfully transition into my last job change. The first 90 days definitely set the tone for the rest of my tenure.

You might say, “This doesn’t apply to me because I’m not changing positions”, but you can also use the book and process with new leaders (e.g. assistant principals/superintendents, department heads, coordinators) in your organization. It doesn’t matter whether the new leader is coming from within the organization or from the outside. The book would be great to use in orientations and/or retreats before new leaders begin.

Michael Watkins is the Chairman of Genesis Advisers, an executive on-boarding and transition acceleration company located in Newton, Massachusetts and he opens the book by stating,

The actions you take during your first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed for fail. Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and to make needed changes in an organization. But they are also periods of acute vulnerability, because you lack established working relationships and a detailed understanding of your new role. If you fail to build momentum during your transition, you will face an uphill battle from that point forward.

If nothing else, Watkins creates an awareness of the importance of planning for “accelerating transitions” for the reader. Instead of going into the details I prefer to share just a few highlights.

The foundation of the book is based on the following propositions:

1. The root causes of transition failure always lie in a pernicious interaction between the situation, with its opportunities and pitfalls, and the individual, with his or her strengths and vulnerabilities. “Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them.”

2. There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure and reach the breakeven point faster.

3. The overriding goal in a transtion is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility.

4. Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly.

5. Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organizations.

With an understanding of the five propositions one can then embark on the 90-day plan. There are ten steps to take during the process.

  1. Promote yourself
  2. Accelerate your learning
  3. Match strategy to situation
  4. Secure early wins
  5. Negotiate success
  6. Achieve alignment
  7. Build your team
  8. Create coalitions
  9. Keep your balance
  10. Expedite everyone

After just reviewing these ideas I’m excited to get started with my accelerated transition.  After all, August will be here before I know it.

Anyone else used these strategies in the past? If so, I’d love to hear more about what happened.