Is Interim Leadership Your Next Career Stop?

By Lydia Ostermeier-Haynes, M.S.N., B.S.N., R.N.

With so many changes in the executive job market, many leaders – especially those nearing retirement – have left permanent jobs to venture on the interim executive path. Interim leadership gives executives the opportunity to stay active and involved in their careers, but for finite periods of time, usually from six months to a year.

Interim executives are not your typical leaders. They’re the kind of people who readily jump into uncertain situations and enjoy mixing it up with completely new colleagues and foreign surroundings. The work is challenging, but rewarding, and not everyone is cut out to be an interim.

The list below includes qualities that I feel are representative of a strong interim leader:

  1. Enthusiastic. An interim leader has to see their work as a “calling” rather than a job. They need to have a positive outlook on what they can contribute, and are certainly not just in it for the money.
  2. Energetic. Being an interim executive is not easy, and the work happens at a faster pace than for a permanent hire (who is expected to take time to acclimate to a role). Boundless energy is essential.
  3. Communicative. With a small window of time in which to make an impact, the interim needs to communicate clearly and consistently with colleagues.
  4. Resilient. Interim leaders may fail one day but need to pick themselves up the next. They need to be able to say, “We’ll course correct and find a solution that works.”
  5. Situation-defusing. The nature of interim work is to enter into tense situations, often when the previous executive was let go or left unexpectedly. The interim must have the ability to put out fires (small and large) and deescalate tension.
  6. Tech-savvy. Most interims are late careerists and can sometimes struggle with newer technology. However, it is important that the executive knows how to, for example, create a spreadsheet or mine a database. They must be completely comfortable on a computer.
  7. Relationship-building. A good interim should be social, able to get out of their office to regularly meet their team, peers or board members. The more relationships they develop, the more successful they are likely to be.
  8. Comfortable with change. Interim leaders are rarely brought in to simply maintain the status quo. They are expected to keep the organization moving ahead and tackle key initiatives that may be on the horizon. The interim leader must be comfortable with change and be able to lead others through change.
  9. Invested. Good interim leaders don’t think of their position as temporary, though it may last just six or eight months. They treat it like they have accepted the permanent role, and are invested in the team, the organization and its mission. In their mind, being an interim is not just a “consulting gig.”

An excellent interim leader doesn’t need to check all of the boxes above. However, they should identify with most of these qualities if they want to enjoy the experience and make a real difference in the organizations that they serve.

Interested in a career as an interim executive? Reach out to Lydia Ostermeier-Haynes in WittKieffer’s Interim Leadership Practice to find out more.