Taking up the helm of interim executive leadership, here's what you need to know

Interim executive

For many independent consultants, having the opportunity to step in as an interim executive for an organisation appears to be the dream position that would not only enable them to apply their years of career expertise, but allow a project opportunity with a deadline, which they can sink their teeth into, grow from, move on from. 

But sometimes, the preparation for an interim executive role is much more of a challenge than the actual role itself. 

Here are a few tips to help you prepare yourself for your next interim role. 

1.    Act like a leader before you are one

“It’s never foolish to begin preparing for a transition no matter how many years away it is or where you are in your career,” says Muriel Maignan Wilkins, co-author of Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence. Stepping into an executive position is a role that expects discipline, leadership and action, from the first moment you walk through the doors of your new organisation.  Your career journey, up until that point, is your leadership development course. 

Becoming a leader isn’t defined by the fancy title or corner office. As a functional head of a business, or the head of that business itself, you will be expected to listen, hear and implement action almost immediately. A driven interim executive will already demonstrate a natural leadership style (whether learnt, or innate) which will immediate instil calm in the knowledge that a clear direction is visible and most importantly confidence in your ability to deliver.  

As you prepare for your one-day interim executive role, consider where you are right now. Are there areas of leadership that you, as an individual, could explore and develop more? Are there areas of knowledge and experience that you need to grow? 

2.    Build relationships with your executive team

Talmix independent consultant and interim CFO, Barbara Spurrier, says “Working with smaller businesses is exciting. As an interim CFO or FD, you realise the power you hold in creating opportunity to lead the business down a growth path. But sometimes, the challenges present themselves in the form of the leadership team itself.  Very often, in the case of an owner-led business, the incoming CFO may not have the complete freedom required to create change – which means that you may see the opportunity – but your degree of influence is very limited”. Leading on from Barbara’s experience, and the countless anecdotes shared from other interim leaders, failure to build a relationship with both your executive team, as well as all key stakeholders such as investors and members of the board, is sure to set you up for failure in your new role as an interim member of the executive team. Focussing only on the job at hand will lead to as much success as the people who are supporting you – which is why it is imperative to quickly identify any challenges within your colleague-team, and work on an active strategy to improve and grow relationship.  A united front is a strong front – and one that delivers results. 

3.    Not every assignment is a turn-around. 

Controversial – we recognise that. But on many occasions, the role of an interim executive leader may not always be one that will lead to something new. It may simply be a set of actions to stop something from happening, to support through a process, to fix something that’s broken.  Yes, indirectly, we recognise that your role as the interim leader will be one that will need to result in revenue growth, business development and more, but not every role will see you donning your new product launch cap and embarking on a new journey with the organisation. 

Not every organisation needs a complete and total rescue, and with countless anecdotes from interim executive directors,  your role may simply be to support and clarify, for the rest of the team to continue on their projected growth path. 

4.    Staying away from the They Blame mentality. 

We’ve heard it so often before. One of the challenges that many independent consultants face is overcoming the transparent door of acceptance exhibited by the company’s employees who have been there since the wheel was created.  And as an independent person who joins a process as an outsider, and who is expected to deliver results almost immediately, that challenge very often can quickly turn to the old us vs them sentiment. Whether you’re joining as an independent consultant to a project, or whether you’re joining the organisation as an interim executive director, your secret weapon is to stay away from the They Blame culture – whether it’s an individual in different business function, or an individual on the board. Your mission is to remain focussed on the goal, focussed on your objectives, and focussed on delivering success. 

Do you have a story to share about your role as an independent interim executive director? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us today. 

About the Author

Katy Roberts

Katy is an independent marketing consultant and founded Fresh Brew Marketing out of her love for the cuppa. A seasoned marketer, Katy writes for several global publications and provides outsourced marketing services to businesses throughout the UK. She is a keen geocacher and rates running around in city centres dressed in Christmas lights as one of her most successful Social Media campaigns to date.

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