Don’t make an impact in your first 100 days

There is a raft of leadership literature on how to make an impact in your first 100 days (or sometimes it’s your first 90 days), the received wisdom being that you have to make your mark hard and fast as a new leader.

I’ve always thought this isn’t just slightly wrong; it is totally wrong. I thought it was just me who thought this, so was relieved to hear Michael Eisner, who led Disney for twenty years, make the same point, talking about his first 100 days at Disney:

“The first piece of paper I was given listed nineteen people to be fired. I didn’t fire them. I played it cool…I moved slowly. Some of those nineteen people are still there well over twenty years later.

“In fact I started so slowly I lost the first day trying to find my first board meeting. I’m a New Yorker. I’m driving around California and I had to call my lawyer and ask ‘Where is Disney?’

“The first big meeting I had was on a film set with 3,000 Disney people, where I introduced myself and told them I was interested in meeting everybody.

“Then I asked questions. Again, take it slowly. Then trot. Then run. Then gallop. Then get completely out of control.”

So, new leaders anxious to make an impact in their first 100 days, please note…that you shouldn’t. Making an impact is all about you. Learning first then doing the right thing is all about the context you have inherited.

But, don’t you love that closing line of Eisner’s? If you are looking to make big changes, it’s a powerful mantra:

“Take it slowly.
Then trot.
Then run.
Then gallop.
Then get completely out of control.”

Eisner was talking at ECMW 2007. I’m looking forward to hearing him again at Leaders in London. He’s been largely demonised due to his apparent inability to get on with people, and his critics cite a God complex. But, I think there’s a lot more to him as a leader than just a rampant ego.

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