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Watkins_Michael - IMD Business School
Michael Watkins

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change

Michael D Watkins is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change. He is a globally recognized leadership transitions expert and author of the best-selling book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter. A Thinkers50-ranked management influencer, Watkins has developed proven frameworks and tools to help professionals navigate personal and organizational change challenges. He has spent the past two decades working with leaders as they transition to new roles, build their teams, and transform their organizations. In 2023, Watkins was inducted into the Thinkers50 Management Hall of Fame, which recognizes remarkable contributions to the realm of management concepts and ideas spanning many years.

The First 90 Days has become the classic reference for leaders in transition, and an authoritative resource on leading change. It has sold more than 1.5 million copies and been translated into 23 different languages. The Economist described it as “the onboarding bible,” while 800-CEO-Read (now Porchlight) called it one of the best 100 business books of all time. Amazon included it on its list of 100 leadership and success books to read in a lifetime.

Even the best-prepared leaders find the transition to CEO to be the most challenging in their professional careers. The stakes are high, and the uncertainties are great. All eyes are on you, but you may have few people who can act as trusted advisors.

The book, first published in 2003, outlines basic principles to help leaders transition quickly and efficiently to new professional roles. It identifies the most common traps into which new leaders fall and provides the tools and strategies to avoid them. It was followed in 2009 by Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Managing Critical Career Transitions, which offers additional guidance on how to apply the framework in different contexts and more turbulent times, exploring eight crucial transitions virtually everyone encounters during their career. Both books have since been updated and expanded, most recently with the 2019 publication of Master Your Next Move: The Essential Companion to The First 90 Days.

Over the past 20 years, Watkins has used his First 90 Days® methodology to help leaders make successful transitions, both in his teaching at IMD, INSEAD, and Harvard Business School, as well as through his private consultancy practice Genesis Advisors, which he co-founded.

Watkins has authored 15 books on leadership and negotiation and hundreds of articles for leading business journals. His work features in Harvard Business Review’s HBR Guides and 10 Must Reads series on leadership, teams, strategic initiatives, and new managers, and his article The future of team leadership is multimodal, co-authored with Robert Hooijberg, was the most-read piece of 2021 in MIT Sloan Management Review.

Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them was named one of the best business books of 2004 by strategy+business and won the 2006 annual Kulp-Wright Award from The American Risk and Insurance Association. Two of his books on negotiation – Breakthrough International Negotiation: How Great Negotiators Transformed the World’s Toughest Post-Cold War Conflicts and Breakthrough Business Negotiation: A Toolbox for Managers – won the CPR Institute’s prize for best books in the field of negotiation in 2001 and 2003. His 2024 book, The Six Disciplines of Strategic Thinking, explores how executives can learn to think strategically and lead their organizations into the future.

At IMD, he directs the First 90 Days open program for leaders taking on challenging new roles and co-directs the Transition to Business Leadership (TBL) executive program for future enterprise leaders.

Before joining IMD in 2007, Watkins was an Adjunct Professor at INSEAD and Associate Professor at Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. While on the faculty of these institutions, he designed and taught world-class programs for high-potential leader development, corporate diplomacy, and strategic negotiation.

Originally from Canada, he studied electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo and business and law at Western University, before earning a PhD in decision sciences at Harvard University.

Selected publications
Case studies in US trade negotiation

Trade policy has moved from the wings onto center stage. Between 1992 and 2000, US exports rose by 55 percent. By the year 2000, trade summed to 26 percent of US GDP, and the United States imported...

1 January 2006
Predictable surprises: The disaster you should have seen coming, and how to prevent them

In this book, the authors show that many disasters are preceded by clear warning signals that leaders either miss-or purposely ignore. They explain the cognitive, organizational, and political bias...

Decision Making
23 November 2004
Breakthrough business negotiation: A toolbox for managers

This book presents principles that apply to any negotiation situation and tools to achieve breakthrough results. Step by step, it demonstrates how to diagnose a situation, build coalitions, manage ...

1 January 2002
Breakthrough international negotiation: How great negotiators transformed the world's toughest post-cold war conflicts

This book offers a revealing, blow-by-blow description of secret, headline-making negotiations in the Middleast, Korea, Africa, and Bosnia, as well as an invaluable guide to conducting such a diffi...

Negotiation Geopolitics
1 January 2001
Academic publications
Insight for Executives
 - IMD Business School
The Essential Companion to The First 90 Days