Saturday, March 19

The first 100 days

Couple of weeks back, I spoke at Essex Business School on the first 100 days. As a lowly project manager who has to pick up projects on a fairly regular basis, deliver them, and then go forward to do a new job, I think i can talk a bit about what one needs to do in the first 100 days. Its the first 100 days that makes or breaks a job. Anyway, pretty basic stuff about all this process but I was reminded about the lecture when I read about how Abraham Lincoln collapsed in his first 10 days itself when he couldn't manage the job. I quote:

That Abraham Lincoln brought to the presidency a modest record in public office — eight years as a state legislator, one term in the House, an unsuccessful Senate candidacy — is well known. What is less often acknowledged is that Lincoln became the nation’s chief executive with almost no executive experience — even his two-man law firm had been managed largely by his partner. And that lack of experience showed.

But here is where Lincoln’s management inexperience showed. He made it harder on himself by endeavoring to fill every post personally. Charles Francis Adams, despite being named Lincoln’s ambassador to Great Britain, underestimated Lincoln then and underappreciated him later. But Adams, whose grandfather John and father, John Quincy, had both served as presidents, was observant on this point, writing in his diary that the “difficulty with Mr. Lincoln is that he has no conception of his situation. And having no system in his composition he has undertaken to manage the whole thing as if he knew all about it.”

Russell of The Times of London pointed out that “at the very moment when the President and his Cabinet should be left undisturbed to deal with the tremendous questions which have arisen for their action, the roar of office seekers dins every sense, and almost annihilates them.” One senator, at about the same time, observed “Our poor President is having a hard time of it. He came here tall, strong and vigorous, but has worked himself about to death.”

A look at Lincoln’s calendar in his second week in office illustrates the point. While trying to stave off disunion and civil war, the president took time on Monday to name a federal judge in Kansas, on Tuesday to meet with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to discuss appointments, on Wednesday to interview and appoint a candidate for surveyor general of Kansas, on Thursday to name his minister to Sweden and on Friday to nominate an ambassador to Guatemala. Each such choice represented the culmination of a process: interviews with those selected and those passed over, congressional and other political consultations, messages to be reviewed and signed.

At the end of March, as his attempts to manage the secession crisis foundered, Lincoln collapsed with a migraine headache — “keeled over,” in the words of the First Lady. The next day he lost his temper with a political delegation, tearing their petition into pieces and throwing it into a fireplace, dressing them down and showing them to the door. Lincoln soon said of this period that its trials “were so great that could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.”

Much to learn about how to do the first 100 days, that lays the foundation for your next 2-3-4 years in that role. BTW, if anybody is interested in this topic, this is a good book to use. Good 10 step plan.

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