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Swimming into Change December 7, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in leadership.
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“The President has 100 days; you have 90.”

swimming   This is the premise for an interesting book on transitions titled The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins. I came across it while sitting in the natatorium (love that word) watching my daughter do length after length of the backstroke, crawl, butterfly, and breast stroke,

While there, I struck up a conversation with one of the other swimming dads. It turns out he is a pediatrician working in Ohio. It is a long commute and a long story but the short version is that he is in transition and is working on becoming a leader in his organization. This book was his personal homework.

Transitions certainly are an essential part of everyone’s lives as they change careers or move along in life and they should not be approached too lightly. When you are making a transition into a leadership role, you also must realize you are creating a change for those around you. Your new co-workers are figuring you out as much as you are figuring out them. The difference is that they know the invisible networks and the institutional culture, the edges of the pool, so to speak. You, as the new member of the team will inevitably spend time bumping into walls.

It is funny how we all find ways to test out the culture and reach out to find the walls and sharp edges. I use humor. I heave learned some jokes that work in Tucson fail miserably here. We learn, sometimes the hard way, where the walls are. I used to use that analogy for my students when I was teaching high school. You toss them into the big pool that is society and encourage them to figure things out. Oh, and the lights are off, did I mention that?

They flail about in the dark, in a crowded pool and don’t even know where the edge of the pool is.


It is only natural that they will reach out and push the limits of their space.


How else will they find the walls, the edges of the pool, the other swimmers, and the deep end? I tell jokes. Others quietly observe.


Still others dive into the fray, impose their will, and summarize the damage when it’s all over. I’m figuring out my own colleagues, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their patterns of interaction just as they are figuring out mine.


I think my 90 days has just ended and, interestingly, that was just about enough time to figure out the basics.