The First 100 Days


Next week, Dowling Street will cross its first 100 days mark. This is a milestone for us and even though it feels like it flew right by, so much has already happened. And, these days, I’m routinely being asked, “What is it like to start a firm from scratch?”

We view Dowling Street as our very own adaptive challenge. No one has done what we have set out to do in quite the same way, so there is no technical fix we can apply, no magic wand to wave. Instead, this gives us an opportunity to apply the Adaptive Leadership Framework, the same tools and expertise that with use with clients, on ourselves. Here are our top three lessons from our first 100 days.

1. If you want to be CEO, be prepared to be CEE: Chief Executive Everything

The first piece of advice I was given when starting Dowling Street was that I needed to be prepared to take on the widest range of duties, from chief strategist to chief dishwasher. It wasn’t long before I really knew what this meant: when resources are scarce, you roll up your sleeves and leverage any talents available to you. Under other circumstances we would have outsourced tasks such as designing our logo or producing our website, but these are just some of the things we’ve done in-house. Our foundation has been built on the bedrock of a few, highly dedicated people pushing themselves to new heights, doing things they never thought they could.

There are two important things to note here. The first is that the natural pressure of starting a company with its endless set of tasks and limited set of hands forced the team into a heightened state of awareness. We were pushed out of our collective comfort zone to a place where we recognized that existing tactics were insufficient and we would need to undergo some learning. This is precisely what is required when confronted with an adaptive challenge.

The second thing to note is that by being forced to undertake this together, we have “bonded through the burden.” There is a connection that is formed when individuals are forced to rely on one another in high stress environments (an extreme example being the robust bond between fellow soldiers). Similar to athletic training, this connection has built “adaptive muscles” for our future. I anticipate that going forward we will be more honest with each another, be able to raise issues faster, and get to a deeper diagnosis more quickly, all in the service of higher agility for our clients.

2. You might live at 10 feet, but you need to believe at 10,000 feet

Like any job, the day-to-day at Dowling Street is filled with many tasks and not all of them are exciting or glamorous. I call this the 10-foot view. This is where the rubber hits the road and the real work gets done. While the 10-foot view can seem tedious and tiresome, what is important to remember is that the 10-foot view must always be in service of the 10,000-foot view.

We at Dowling Street are passionate in our belief that by combining data-driven management strategy with a people-focused understanding of organizational behavior and leadership, we can add value to clients and drive adoption of solutions that can change organizations and the world. This is our 10,000-foot view. Simply put, it is our purpose. This was our original insight, and until we learn differently, our connection to this purpose drives us to relentlessly pursue it. We are able to get through everything that must be done at 10-feet because we draw inspiration and motivation that we get from 10,000-feet. And, that’s the exciting part.

3. Don’t miss an opportunity to celebrate

We prioritize sustainability at Dowling Street. For our clients this means that we aren’t satisfied treating symptoms, only to have them reoccur; we push to seek out the underlying systemic challenge. Internally this means that we are building a company for the long-term that we hope outlives any of us individually. But we recognize that the road is long and if we are to stay on this journey together, we need to embrace practices that will produce the energy to sustain each of us personally.

One tradition we’ve adopted is to celebrate every victory. There are a number of wins that we produce each week and it would be easy to breeze by them and on to the next thing. There is always the next thing. But, we find it important to stop at the end of each week and recount what we did and how we wrote the next paragraph in the Dowling Street story. We call it “winning the week.”

Early on, we celebrated our win of filing organization paperwork and bringing on our first client. We later celebrated launching our first project, completing our first major proposal and launching our website. And, we certainly celebrated when we recently received our first payment. These celebrations aren’t massive festivities, but simple recognition that rejuvenates us by constantly reminding that these minor achievements are the prologue to the major accomplishments to come.

As you might imagine, the first 100 days have been a dynamic, exciting time for us. I can’t wait to see how we build on what we’ve learned for an even more exhilarating next 100 days.