WASHINGTON, D.C. — The first 100 days are a make-or-break period for any government leader. That reality will be evident in the weeks ahead as the Obama administration seeks to make a series of critical appointments for the second term. A new report from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) outlines the key steps any leader should take to ensure success during that crucial period. The report, titled Your First 100 Days: Starting Strong as a New Leader in U.S. Government, is being released today.
Leaders who make the right moves in their initial 100 days establish credibility and momentum, while those who get off to a rocky start often never recover. The authors offer guidelines for making the most of this honeymoon period based on insights from dozens of former senior officials, CEOs, and top military leaders. The recommendations include moving quickly to understand the dynamics of the organization, building a strong team, and focusing relentlessly on the objectives and changes you want to deliver.
“The average tenure of a political appointee is only about two years,” said Michèle Flournoy, a senior advisor to BCG and a coauthor of the report, who served as the under secretary of defense for policy in the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2012. “Getting off to a rough start—whether by moving too slowly or too aggressively—can be a costly, even irreversible, misstep.”
“If you want to make bold changes, you need to move in that first 100-day period, when you have maximum leverage,” said Margaret Spellings, the other coauthor of the report and a senior advisor to BCG, who served as the secretary of education from 2005 to 2009.
Focus on Leadership
Making the most of that 100-day period requires a combination of effective analytical, leadership, and management skills.
In order to execute on all these levels at once, leaders must be vigilant about guarding their most precious asset: time. “People will infer a leader’s true priorities from how they actually spend their time,” said Spellings. “Delegate what others can do, and make room for your priorities.”
- Prepare yourself. The clock starts ticking the moment you are nominated. Frankly assess your own strengths, weaknesses, and leadership style. Also identify a few trusted advisors who will provide you with perspective and support.
- Once in office, take time to really get to know the organization—how it functions, how it is perceived by stakeholders, and where you can tap sources of reliable information within the ranks.
- Build an effective leadership team that integrates both political appointees and civil servants, who are a tremendous source of institutional knowledge.
- Set an agenda—the objectives and priorities you want to achieve—and mobilize your organization to make the journey with you. Don’t be afraid to make a few big bets early on in your tenure: Which fights do you want to take on—or avoid?
- Create a culture that reflects your values and encourages the right behaviors, everything from how decisions are made to how people treat one another.
- Communicate your vision constantly and consistently. And remember that people need to hear something at least nine times before it sticks.
Lastly, new leaders must pace themselves. “New leaders must remember that they are running a marathon, not a sprint, though occasionally they will have to run intervals,” said Flournoy. “They must pace themselves for the long haul and lock in time on the calendar for the little things that recharge their batteries.”
A copy of the report can be downloaded at www.bcgperspectives.com.