The first 90 days

The first 90 days: Comprehensive Book Summary

The first 90 days: In the fast-paced world of business, transitions are an inevitable part of a leader’s journey. Whether stepping into a new role, taking on a promotion, or entering a new organization, the first 90 days are critical for establishing credibility, building relationships, and making an impact. In his book “The First 90 Days,” acclaimed author Michael D. Watkins provides a comprehensive guide to navigating through these crucial moments of transition.

Drawing on his extensive research and years of experience, Watkins presents a roadmap for success, offering readers a practical framework and actionable strategies to make the most of their first 90 days. With an authoritative yet engaging writing style, Watkins takes readers on a journey, unraveling the complexities and challenges that come with transitioning into a new role.

The First 90 Days” is not a mere collection of management theories and concepts; it goes beyond that. Watkins brings these ideas to life with compelling real-life examples and case studies, providing readers with tangible proof of the power of his strategies. His meticulous attention to detail and data-driven approach make this book perfect for anyone seeking to excel in their new leadership position.

Each chapter of the book is designed to address a specific aspect of the transition process. Watkins prompts readers to assess their starting point, recognize threats and opportunities, diagnose the business situation, and develop a transition plan. He then guides them through securing early wins, negotiating success, achieving alignment, building a high-performing team, and creating a personal brand.

What sets “The First 90 Days” apart from other leadership books is its practicality. Watkins offers not just theory, but also a wealth of tools, frameworks, and checklists that readers can immediately apply to their own situations. He encourages self-reflection, provides thought-provoking questions, and challenges readers to take charge of their transitions.

Whether you are a seasoned executive, a middle manager looking for a promotion, or an aspiring leader, “The First 90 Days” is a must-read. It provides a compass to navigate the uncharted waters of transition, ensuring that you not only survive but thrive in your new role. So, sit back, buckle up, and get ready for an enlightening journey through the first 90 days of leadership excellence.

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The First 90 Days: Chapter Wise Summary

Chapter 1: The Importance of Successful Transitions

In the first chapter of “The First 90 Days,” author Michael D. Watkins emphasizes the importance of successful transitions in a person’s career. He explains that the first 90 days in a new role are critical for establishing credibility, building relationships, and understanding the organization’s culture. Watkins introduces the concept of the “break-even point” and highlights the risks and challenges that come with transitions.

Watkins begins the chapter by stating, “Transitions are critical times when small differences in your behavior can have a huge impact on long-term results“. He emphasizes that how leaders manage their transitions can significantly affect their success in new roles.

The author explains that during transitions, leaders go through a “break-even point” where the time it takes to achieve results and make a positive difference matches or exceeds the time it took to get the job in the first place. Watkins states, “To be effective, leaders must compress transitions to the shortest possible time, successfully accelerating their learning curves”. This highlights the importance of quickly adapting and making an impact in a new role.

Watkins provides a real-life example of a CEO who failed to understand the importance of a successful transition. He shares the story of Bob Nardelli, who was hired as the CEO of Home Depot in 2000. Nardelli focused on implementing changes without understanding the organization’s culture, leading to a decline in employee morale and overall performance. This example emphasizes the risks associated with not effectively managing transitions.

The chapter concludes with Watkins explaining the four types of transitions that leaders commonly go through: promotions, onboarding, taking charge in new roles, and M&A or business situation transitions. He highlights the unique challenges and opportunities presented by each type of transition.

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Chapter 2: Assess Your Starting Point

In this chapter, Watkins emphasizes the importance of assessing your starting point before diving into a new role. He provides a framework called “S.T.A.R.T,” which stands for: see yourself, think together, assess your team, review the landscape, and take stock of your personal readiness. Watkins introduces tools and strategies to help readers gain a clear understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth.

Watkins provides several quotes and examples throughout the chapter to illustrate the importance of self-assessment:

1. “The more you understand your starting point, the better able you are to chart the right course and take the steps necessary to get through the break-even point.”

Watkins emphasizes that self-awareness is essential for navigating through a transition effectively. By understanding your starting point, you can make informed decisions and set realistic expectations for your role.

2. “The S.T.A.R.T model will help you diagnose your own situation, so you can form a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses.”

The S.T.A.R.T framework serves as a guide for assessing your starting point. It helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses, enabling you to leverage your strengths and address any areas of improvement.

3. Example: Watkins shares the story of a leader, James, who struggled in his new role because he did not assess his starting point effectively. James failed to understand the political dynamics within the organization and did not build crucial relationships, which ultimately led to his failure. 

This example highlights the consequences of not assessing your starting point. Watkins uses real-life scenarios to emphasize the importance of taking the time to understand the organization’s culture, politics, and key relationships.

4. “Think about how you can build relationships with this team of important people, and recognize that once you are there, you’ll have even more scope to work on three critical relationships: your superiors, your subordinates, and your peers.”

Watkins underscores the significance of assessing your team and building relationships with key individuals. He highlights that managing upwards, downwards, and sideways is crucial for success in a new role.

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Chapter 3: Recognize the Threats and Opportunities

Watkins in his book The First 90 Days focuses on identifying threats and opportunities in the third chapter. He discusses the six most common challenges that leaders face during transitions, including lack of information, unclear expectations, poor management of the team, ineffective culture, and inadequate resources. Watkins also highlights the importance of understanding the organization’s strategy and aligning it with your goals.

Watkins starts by discussing the first challenge: lack of information. He states, “Without the right information, you will be vulnerable to making mistakes and missteps“. He advises leaders to gather as much information as possible about the organization, its culture, and the specific challenges they will face. Watkins shares the example of a new CEO who spent his first weeks visiting different company sites, meeting employees, and listening to their concerns. This helped him gain a comprehensive understanding of the company and build trust with his team.

The second challenge Watkins addresses is unclear expectations. He writes, “Misunderstood or poorly communicated expectations can become huge obstacles to progress”. Watkins advises leaders to have open and honest conversations with their superiors and key stakeholders to clarify expectations. He shares the example of a newly appointed department head who scheduled meetings with his direct reports to discuss their roles and responsibilities. This helped him align team expectations and build a sense of direction.

The third challenge Watkins discusses is poor management of the team. He states, “Leaders who inherit existing teams often face the task of managing people they didn’t choose“. Watkins emphasizes the importance of assessing the team’s capabilities, performance, and culture. He advises leaders to address any performance issues and make necessary changes to ensure a high-performing team. Watkins provides the example of a new sales manager who identified underperforming team members and provided additional training and support to help them improve.

The fourth challenge Watkins focuses on is ineffective culture. He writes, “Culture can either enable or hinder your ability to execute your strategy”. Watkins suggests that leaders analyze the organization’s culture and identify any aspects that may impede their progress. He shares the example of a new CEO who realized the company had a culture of blame and secrecy. The CEO made it a priority to foster a culture of transparency and collaboration, which resulted in increased trust and improved performance.

The fifth challenge Watkins addresses is inadequate resources. He explains that leaders often face resource constraints that can hinder their ability to achieve results. Watkins advises leaders to identify resource gaps early on and proactively address them. He provides the example of a project manager who needed additional budgetary support to successfully complete a challenging project. The project manager approached the executive team with a well-researched business case, leading to an increase in funding and successful project completion.

The final challenge Watkins discusses is the organization’s external environment. He writes, “You must understand the forces shaping the business environment if you hope to shape your organization’s strategy”. Watkins advises leaders to analyze industry trends, customer needs, and competitive threats to formulate effective strategies. He shares the example of a new marketing director who conducted market research and identified emerging consumer trends. This enabled the marketing director to develop new product lines that aligned with market demands.

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Chapter 4: Diagnose the Business Situation

In this chapter, Watkins offers insights on how to diagnose the business situation in a new role. He suggests conducting a thorough analysis of the organization’s internal and external factors, including its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Watkins provides a framework called the “Seven S Framework,” which helps readers assess different aspects of the business, such as structure, strategy, systems, and skills.

Watkins provides a framework called the “Seven S Framework” to guide readers in assessing various aspects of the business:

Diagnose the Business Situation
The First 90 Days Summary

1. Strategy: “Strategy refers to the company’s plan for creating competitive advantage and delivering value to customers.” Watkins suggests understanding the organization’s strategic goals, priorities, and positioning in the market. He advises leaders to analyze the clarity, coherence, and relevance of the strategy.

Example: Watkins shares the story of Jim Brailey, who joined General Electric (GE) during a time of strategic transformation. Brailey conducted a thorough analysis of GE’s strategy to identify the areas where the company needed to focus on and align his own goals with the organization’s strategic direction.

2. Structure: “Structure refers to the company’s organizational design, reporting relationships, and decision-making processes.” Watkins highlights the importance of understanding the formal and informal structure within the organization. He advises leaders to examine the clarity, simplicity, and alignment of the structure.

Example: Watkins provides an example of Tim Cook’s transition as CEO of Apple. Cook had to navigate the complex organizational structure created by Steve Jobs and identify areas where simplification and streamlining were necessary for better decision-making and productivity.

3. Systems: “Systems refer to the processes and procedures that support the organization’s operations.” Watkins suggests evaluating various systems, such as budgeting, performance management, and information technology. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the efficiency, effectiveness, and integration of these systems.

Example: Watkins shares the story of Mary Barra, who took over as CEO of General Motors (GM). Barra conducted a thorough analysis of the company’s systems, including the product development process, to identify areas where improvements were needed to increase efficiency and innovation.

4. Skills: “Skills refer to the capabilities and competencies of the organization’s employees.” Watkins encourages leaders to assess the skills and knowledge of their team members and identify any skill gaps that need to be addressed. He advises developing a plan to improve skills and capabilities.

Example: Watkins discusses the case of Tom Leighton, CEO of Akamai Technologies, who prioritized the development of technical skills within the organization to keep up with the rapidly changing technology landscape.

5. Staff: “Staff refers to the organization’s human resources, including the talent, experience, and diversity of its employees.” Watkins suggests assessing the composition of the team and identifying any gaps or imbalances. He advises leaders to consider the alignment, engagement, and development of the workforce.

Example: Watkins provides an example of Alan Mulally, who became CEO of Ford during a time of financial crisis. Mulally focused on building a high-performing team and ensuring the right people were in the right roles to drive the company’s turnaround.

6. Style: “Style refers to the leadership and management style prevalent within the organization.” Watkins emphasizes the importance of understanding the existing culture and management practices. He advises leaders to assess the organization’s leadership behaviors, values, and norms.

Example: Watkins discusses how Louis V. Gerstner Jr. transformed IBM by challenging the prevailing bureaucratic culture and implementing a more customer-focused and results-oriented leadership style.

7. Shared Values: “Shared values refer to the fundamental beliefs, principles, and norms that guide the organization’s behavior.” Watkins suggests evaluating the alignment between the organization’s stated values and the actual behaviors observed. He advises leaders to consider the level of commitment, coherence, and congruence of shared values.

Example: Watkins mentions the example of Darren Huston, who became CEO of and focused on strengthening the company’s commitment to customer service by reinforcing shared values of excellence and customer-centricity.

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Chapter 5: Develop a Transition Plan

Watkins in his book The First 90 Days focuses delves into the importance of developing a transition plan in this chapter. He outlines seven key elements that should be included in the plan, such as clarifying expectations, establishing early wins, building relationships, managing oneself, building the team, getting early wins, and creating alignment. Watkins shares practical tips and strategies on how to effectively execute the plan and achieve results.

Watkins emphasizes the importance of clarifying expectations as a crucial element of the transition plan: “One of the most important things you can do early on in a transition is to clarify expectations”. He emphasizes the need for clear communication between the new leader and key stakeholders to ensure alignment and avoid misunderstandings.

To establish credibility and build momentum, Watkins highlights the significance of achieving early wins as part of the transition plan: “Getting some quick wins establishes your reputation as a highly-credible, capable leader”. He suggests identifying low-hanging fruits and focusing on achievable goals that can be accomplished within the first 90 days to gain confidence and demonstrate value to the organization.

In the book, Watkins provides a relevant example of a leader who successfully implemented this strategy. He shares the story of a newly appointed CEO at a manufacturing company who focused on improving customer satisfaction during his first few months. By addressing key customer complaints and implementing changes to enhance the customer experience, the CEO was able to deliver early wins and build credibility among stakeholders.

Another important element highlighted in the transition plan is building relationships within the organization. Watkins emphasizes the need to connect with key individuals and create a support network: “Building relationships is not optional; it is a key component of making any early action plan successful”. He suggests conducting stakeholder mapping exercises to identify critical relationships and developing strategies to engage and collaborate with key stakeholders.

Watkins provides an example of a leader who effectively built relationships during a transition. He shares the story of a consultant who joined a government agency and realized the importance of building relationships with influential individuals across various departments. By actively seeking opportunities to connect with key stakeholders, the consultant was able to gather valuable insights, establish trust, and pave the way for future collaboration.

Furthermore, the author highlights the need to manage oneself as part of the transition plan. Watkins stresses the importance of self-awareness, learning from past experiences, and adapting to new challenges: “In a new role, it is important to manage yourself, to be conscious of your own behavior and its impact on the people around you”. He encourages leaders to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and actively seek feedback to drive personal growth and development.

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Chapter 6: Secure Early Wins

Securing early wins is crucial for establishing credibility and building momentum in a new role. In this chapter, Watkins explains why early wins are important and offers strategies for identifying and pursuing them. He emphasizes the importance of setting realistic goals, leveraging strengths, and building coalitions. Watkins also provides examples and case studies that illustrate the power of early wins in successful transitions. This is what is discussed in the book The First 90 Days.

Watkins quotes, “Early wins build your credibility and establish your legitimacy as a leader. They build positive momentum, create an aura of success around you, and generate goodwill among the people you need in order to implement larger changes.”

Secure Early Wins
The First 90 Days Summary

To secure early wins, Watkins suggests following three key principles:

1. “Find opportunities where results can be achieved quickly”: Watkins advises looking for small, near-term victories that can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. These wins can demonstrate your effectiveness and build confidence among your team and stakeholders. For example, by identifying an inefficient process and implementing a streamlined solution, you can showcase your problem-solving skills and deliver measurable results.

Watkins shares the example of Ray Gilmartin, who became the CEO of Merck & Co. During his first 90 days, Gilmartin focused on securing early wins by pursuing an acquisition deal with Medco, a pharmacy benefits management company. This strategic move helped Merck diversify its revenue streams and gain a competitive edge in the pharmaceutical industry.

2. “Build on the past rather than starting over“: Watkins emphasizes the importance of leveraging existing resources, initiatives, and relationships in order to secure early wins. By building on the foundation that has already been established, you can maximize efficiency and accelerate progress. For instance, instead of completely revamping a marketing campaign, you can identify areas for improvement and implement tactical changes that generate positive outcomes.

Watkins references the example of Jorge Bermudez, who joined Autopista del Sol, a Chilean toll road company, as CEO. Bermudez recognized that the company’s previous efforts to improve customer service had been ineffective. Instead of starting from scratch, he focused on enhancing existing customer service processes, including training employees and implementing technological solutions. As a result, customer satisfaction significantly improved, demonstrating Bermudez’s ability to make impactful changes without disrupting the entire organization.

3. “Align early wins with the strategic goals of the organization“: Watkins stresses the importance of ensuring that your early wins are aligned with the organization’s overall strategy and objectives. By achieving results that are directly linked to the company’s goals, you can gain the support and buy-in of key stakeholders. This alignment also establishes your credibility as a leader who understands and contributes to the organization’s vision.

Watkins provides the example of Cynthia Carroll, the first woman to become CEO of mining company Anglo American. When Carroll took on the role, she inherited several long-standing safety issues within the organization. By prioritizing safety and implementing measures to improve standards, Carroll not only achieved an early win by reducing accidents but also aligned her actions with Anglo American’s core value of safety and sustainability.

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Chapter 7: Negotiate Success

In this chapter, Watkins focuses on negotiating success in a new role. He highlights the importance of aligning expectations with key stakeholders, including superiors, peers, and subordinates. Watkins provides practical advice on how to have effective conversations, manage conflicts, and build trust with others. He also shares insights on how to negotiate resources, authority, and support to ensure a successful transition.

Watkins begins the chapter by emphasizing the significance of negotiating the terms of the new role with key stakeholders, particularly superiors, peers, and subordinates. He states, “Negotiating success is about creating a psychological contract with key stakeholders that defines mutual expectations and sets the stage for productive working relationships.” This contract sets the foundation for the leader’s success and establishes a common understanding of what is expected.

To effectively negotiate success, Watkins provides several strategies and techniques. One such strategy is to have open and honest conversations with stakeholders to gain clarity on their expectations. He suggests asking questions such as, “What do you see as the key priorities for this role?” and “How will we work together to achieve our objectives?” These conversations not only help align expectations but also build trust and rapport with stakeholders.

Watkins emphasizes the importance of managing conflicts that may arise during the negotiation process. He acknowledges that disagreements are natural but advises leaders to focus on finding common ground and seeking win-win solutions. He states, “The key to effective negotiation is not trying to win at all costs, but rather to find solutions that meet the interests of all parties involved.”

In the book, Watkins shares an example of a new CEO who successfully negotiated success by addressing conflicts and aligning expectations with key stakeholders. The CEO recognized the need to build trust with the executive team, so he initiated one-on-one meetings to understand their concerns and aspirations. By actively listening and addressing their issues, he was able to gain their support and create a shared vision for the organization.

Watkins also provides insights on how to negotiate for resources, authority, and support to ensure a successful transition. He advises leaders to clearly articulate their requirements and demonstrate the value they bring to the organization. By presenting a compelling case, leaders can secure the necessary resources and support to accomplish their goals. Watkins states, “The key is to frame your needs in terms of the benefit they will provide to the organization and its stakeholders.”

Additionally, the chapter emphasizes the importance of ongoing negotiations throughout the transition process. As circumstances change, leaders may need to revisit and renegotiate their agreements with stakeholders. Watkins advises leaders to be adaptable and flexible in their negotiations, stating, “Fluid negotiations are not a sign of weakness but rather of a leader who is attuned to the changing needs and dynamics of the organization.”

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Chapter 8: Achieve Alignment

Aligning the organization’s strategy and priorities with your own goals is essential for success. Watkins discusses the importance of achieving alignment in this chapter and offers strategies for creating shared understanding and commitment among team members. He explains how to communicate a compelling vision, manage change, and mobilize stakeholders to drive alignment. Watkins also provides tools and techniques for managing resistance and overcoming obstacles.

Watkins starts by stating, “To achieve your goals, you must align your organization around them. The targets you set should help your team move in the direction the business needs to go“. He emphasizes that the leader’s goals should align with the overall strategy of the organization to ensure everyone is working towards a common purpose.

To achieve alignment, Watkins suggests communicating a compelling vision to the team. He states, “A vision that draws upon the emotional power of shared values and shared aspirations will act as a catalyst for bringing out the best in the members of your team”. By articulating a clear and inspiring vision, leaders can motivate and engage their team members to work towards a common goal.

In his book, Watkins provides an example of Thomas J. Watson Jr., former CEO of IBM, who successfully achieved alignment by communicating a compelling vision. Watson transformed IBM from a hardware-focused company to a service-oriented organization. He rallied his team around the vision of being a company that helps its clients solve their most complex business problems. By aligning the organization’s strategy with this vision, Watson drove IBM’s success.

Watkins also discusses the importance of managing change during a transition. He states, “It is your responsibility to identify the need for change early, anticipate potential resistance, and implement strategies to overcome obstacles”. He emphasizes that change is often met with resistance, and leaders need to proactively address this resistance to achieve alignment. Watkins provides strategies for managing resistance, such as involving key stakeholders in the change process and providing support and resources to deal with the challenges.

An example mentioned in the book is that of a newly appointed CEO who had to lead a major organizational restructuring. The CEO proactively addressed employees’ concerns and communicated the rationale behind the change. By involving key stakeholders and providing support, the CEO was able to gain buy-in and achieve alignment throughout the organization.

Furthermore, Watkins highlights the importance of mobilizing stakeholders to achieve alignment. He states, “Getting stakeholders on board is essential for building momentum and driving change“. Watkins provides strategies for mobilizing stakeholders, such as identifying key influencers, building relationships, and involving them in decision-making processes. By engaging stakeholders and seeking their input, leaders can create a sense of ownership and commitment towards the organization’s goals.

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Chapter 9: Build Your Team

Building a high-performing team is a critical part of a successful transition. In this chapter, Watkins offers guidance on how to assess and develop the existing team, as well as how to make necessary changes if required. He provides insights on team dynamics, hiring and firing decisions, and delegating tasks effectively. Watkins emphasizes the importance of fostering a positive team culture and managing the team’s performance.

Watkins starts the chapter by stating, “Your ability to build and manage a high-performing team is one of the most critical factors in your success during a transition“. He highlights the need for leaders to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and dynamics of their team in order to identify areas for improvement.

To assess the existing team, Watkins suggests conducting interviews and one-on-one conversations with team members. He emphasizes the importance of listening actively and probing deeper to gain valuable insights. Watkins advises leaders to answer questions such as:

– What are the team’s strengths and weaknesses?

– Are team members aligned with the goals and priorities of the transition?

– Are there any skill gaps that need to be addressed?

– How do team members interact and collaborate with each other?

Watkins provides an example of a new CEO, Sarah, who faced the challenge of inheriting a dysfunctional executive team. Through her assessment, Sarah discovered that the team lacked trust and had a history of poor communication. She took decisive action by replacing two ineffective team members and introducing team-building activities to improve collaboration. As a result, the team became more cohesive and started delivering positive results.

In addition to assessing and developing the existing team, Watkins also discusses the importance of hiring and firing decisions during a transition. He advises leaders to assess the team’s skillset and determine if there are any gaps that need to be filled. Watkins suggests involving key stakeholders in the hiring process to ensure alignment and support.

Watkins also emphasizes the importance of delegating tasks effectively to the team. He states, “As a leader, your ability to delegate is instrumental in freeing up your time to focus on more strategic tasks and ensuring that your team members feel empowered and motivated“. He provides strategies for delegating tasks based on the team members’ skills and interests, as well as creating a sense of ownership and accountability.

To illustrate the impact of building a high-performing team, Watkins shares the example of a new sales executive, John, who inherited a team struggling with low morale and missed targets. John recognized the need to rebuild trust and create a positive team culture. He implemented regular team meetings and established clear goals and expectations. Through effective communication and coaching, John saw a significant improvement in the team’s performance and morale.

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Chapter 10: Create Your Personal Brand

In the final chapter, Watkins in his book The First 90 Days emphasizes the importance of creating a personal brand. He explains how to build a reputation and establish credibility as a new leader. Watkins provides advice on how to communicate effectively, demonstrate expertise, and build relationships with key stakeholders. He also offers strategies for managing one’s image, developing a leadership presence, and continuously learning and growing in the new role.

Watkins opens the chapter by stating, “Your personal brand is a promise to the people you work with – a promise of what they can expect from you, and a compass that guides your actions as you seek to fulfill that promise“. He emphasizes that personal branding is not about self-promotion, but rather about being authentic and delivering on your commitments.

The author explains that managing your personal brand starts with self-awareness and understanding how others perceive you. Watkins highlights the importance of feedback in this process, stating, “By seeking feedback on your actions and proactively managing your personal brand, you can make the adjustments needed to build a strong leadership presence”.

To illustrate the concept of personal branding, Watkins provides the example of Carol Bartz, the former CEO of Autodesk. He explains that Bartz’s straightforward communication style and ability to inspire loyalty through her authenticity helped her establish a strong personal brand.

Watkins also emphasizes the importance of building relationships with key stakeholders to enhance your personal brand. He states, “Your personal brand cannot be built in a vacuum; it takes the help and support of key stakeholders who are willing to offer you opportunities, advice, and candid feedback”. Watkins suggests proactively reaching out to stakeholders, demonstrating your expertise, and delivering on commitments to build credibility and trust.

The author encourages leaders to continuously learn and grow to maintain and enhance their personal brand. He discusses the concept of a “brand proposition,” which involves continuously developing and refining your unique skills and capabilities to stay relevant. Watkins provides the example of Amy Hood, the Chief Financial Officer of Microsoft, who constantly seeks new challenges and opportunities to expand her skill set and strengthen her personal brand.

Watkins also highlights the importance of managing one’s image and reputation. He explains that leaders should be intentional in how they present themselves, both in terms of appearance and behavior. Watkins states, “By aligning your actions with your personal brand, you deepen others’ confidence in your ability to deliver on your promises“.

In the final section of the chapter, Watkins provides practical tips and strategies for building and managing your personal brand. He suggests creating a personal branding statement that clearly communicates your unique value proposition. Watkins also encourages leaders to actively seek feedback, conduct self-reflection, and continually align their actions with their personal brand

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