Interim Leader & Leadership: What It Is And Why It’s Important

Excellent leadership can make or break a business. Your organization’s leaders are not only good for impacting your bottom line, but they also ensure everything is run sustainably with room for growth.

Interim leaders have plenty to bring to the table during difficult transitional periods, and they may just be what your company needs. 

What Is An Interim Leader?

An interim leader is an individual taking up a leadership role in an organization for a limited time. They are temporary and typically fill the position for a period of three months to two years, with plenty of variation in between depending on what the company needs. 

Interim leadership typically involves the role of Chief Operating Officer, Executive Director, Chief Financial Officer, and other C-suite roles. 

An interim leader takes on all the responsibilities of a permanent leader without any permanence. Hiring an interim is not for every organization, but there are some instances when a large team could significantly benefit from temporary leadership.

When Is An Interim Leader Necessary?

Interim leadership is most beneficial (and crucial) during an organization’s transitional periods. Whether it’s because of a massive restructuring or an executive’s resignation, these transitional periods occur when there’s a leadership role that needs filling without anybody in line just yet. 

During these periods, organizations have to choose between the following: 

  • Letting the position go unfulfilled in the hopes of finding the ‘perfect’ fit;
  • Hiring an interim leader to guide the company through the transitional period. 

However, interim leadership could also be helpful in other scenarios. For instance, startups looking for external expertise could benefit from an interim—giving them operating knowledge without the financial burden of creating a full-time role. 

What Are The Benefits Of Interim Leadership?

Your Business Through Fresh Eyes

Interim leaders have the unique trait of being an outsider to your organization. Often, these individuals are not encumbered by your business’ internal politics, nor are they stuck in the ways your company typically operates on a daily basis. 

In other words, they can view your operations through fresh eyes. And sometimes, a new perspective is all your company needs to guide it in the right direction. 

Operational Expertise

Interim leaders typically have plenty of industry expertise under their belts. By hiring them, your organization can leverage this experience and use it to make strategic business decisions over the contract period. 

Their broader knowledge base will help: 

  • Give your organization an edge;
  • Move forward in a new, refreshing manner. 

Interim Leaders Are A Hiring Solution

Hiring C-level individuals takes plenty of time and resources. They’re a massive part of how well your organization is run, and the tone at the top is incredibly important for fostering business growth.

As such, it can take some time before you find the perfect fit for your organization—someone with all the qualities you’re looking for to perform a long-term executive function. 

Most organizations do not have the luxury of time and may risk internal issues without proper leadership. 

Interim leaders are a great way to fix this problem while you are still searching for the right person. Looking for interim leaders still takes some time, but it’s considerably shorter than the time you’d dedicate to filling a permanent position. 

However, it’s also important to emphasize that interim leaders are not simply stand-ins for the role. They are meant to fulfill actual executive responsibilities and perform leadership functions during transitional periods. 

Defining Leadership Needs

One more benefit to interim leadership positions is that they help the organization visualize what they’re looking for in an executive candidate. 

An interim hiring solution can help determine what skills are lacking in the business and what type of individual can fill in the gaps. This will significantly improve the organization’s hiring process and help them pick the most appropriate candidate for the position. 

Urgency

Interim leadership positions last only a limited amount of time. While some roles may last a few years, we’re looking at an average of eight months for interim placements. While the time frame may sound intimidating, it can actually be a good thing for your organization. 

Interim leaders are more pressured to get things done and implement changes within a given period, which, in turn, fuels a sense of urgency. This helps them get a better picture of: 

  • What they can do;
  • How much they can help your organization within the duration of their contract. 

Urgency can be a constraint, but can also lead to wonderful results, so make sure to choose your interim leaders carefully. 

What Traits To Look For In An Interim Leader

Not all interim leaders are for your company—and not all executives are great at interim leadership. Here are some characteristics to look for when taking on a temporary executive for your organization. 

Great Leadership Abilities

You might think it’s a no-brainer to look for good leadership skills in an interim leader, but it’s crucial to emphasize the value of authentic leadership rather than just pure technical skill. 

Remember, many leaders enter companies during transitional periods—times when operations may be a bit chaotic, or there may be plenty of tone misunderstanding throughout the institution. During times like these, employees need someone to look up to for guidance. 

A great temporary leader is able to address all these internal issues from an external perspective, smoothing out any kinks in the system. 

A Good Listener and Community-builder

Interim leaders are outsiders to your organization. They aren’t familiar with internal dynamics, which makes it challenging to connect with subordinate employees. 

Having such a leader that’s a good listener who pays attention to how the workplace community functions is essential to having a successful transitional period. These soft skills are helpful for improving organizational communication and connection even during a short-term period of less than a year. 

Project Management Skills

Although interim leaders stay in the role for a limited time, they still need to see the greater picture. They should be able to see how the cogs in the machine work and which aspects of operations are in need of the most help. 

To do this, you need a leader that’s able to report on issues such as optimizing: 

  • Cash flow;
  • Internal controls;
  • Audit engagements, etc. 

These areas are, of course, still dependent on the role the interim executive will fulfill.

Data Collection and Diagnostic Skills

Interim leaders have to work fast. They don’t have the luxury of time, and they have to work on organizational issues with the tools they have at hand. 

Great quality will be excellence at collecting data and corroborating information about the company. This includes looking at internal controls and operations and diagnosing any issues that may be interfering with improved organizational performance. 

Commitment

Being an interim leader is a massive commitment and isn’t something to be taken lightly. Some leaders will choose to play it safe and just ride the tides until the end of their contract. Most of the time, this isn’t what you’re looking for in a leader. 

You want someone that can actually make things happen. You want someone who is willing to take risks or make major changes to achieve desired results—and for that, you need a committed, dedicated individual.

Is Interim Leadership Better than Traditional Leadership?

Interim leadership is not comparable to traditional leadership nor is it an alternative. It is simply another way to handle executive functions in an organization. 

However, while an interim leader does not replace a traditional leader, many remporary leaders eventually take up a permanent function in organizations. During the contract period, the organization may conclude that such a leader is the right fit for the role and choose them for the permanent position. 

Nevertheless, the interim leadership is still marked by a lack of permanence. It is the brevity in the position that makes it so effective—giving organizations an edge with both internal and external operations.