The president of the United States gets 100 days to prove himself, but ordinary leaders only get 90. So says author Michael Watkins in The First 90 Days, a transition roadmap for anyone stepping in to turn a business around, guide a start-up or continue a history of success. The Harvard Business School professor lectures on how to build coalitions, a subtle but necessary skill for easing into a new job or promotion, and his advice leans toward the touchy-feely. Harvard MBAs aren't known for playing well with others, but this book can keep you from falling into the most common new-leader traps, like forgetting to develop relationships.

Watkins is about doing things faster, whether it's learning about the organization or securing early wins to build momentum. The goal is to get to the breakeven point where new leaders start contributing and not just consuming within 90 days. Following this survival guide will get you there, with fewer hard knocks along the way.

Stephanie Swilley is studying for her M.B.A. at Vanderbilt University's Owen School of Management.


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