Woe unto the interim leader. Must be strategic. But may not be the one who sees the strategy through. Must build the organization. But may be building it for someone else. Must manage the operations. But unpopular edicts can be delayed until the permanent leader shows up. As an interim leader, expect to deal with open hostility and passive aggressive behavior on a regular basis. The secret to success is to engage fully with the work itself while eschewing the perks of the job. Maximize the impact. Minimize the damage.
Let's back up. First, try to get clarity on whether interim means "holding the fort until we find the right person, which absolutely will not be you," "on probation with a good chance of becoming permanent," or "doing the job as a developmental opportunity on the way to something else." In either case, engaging fully with the work itself while eschewing the perks of the job implies focusing your efforts on the least prestigious, highest impact tasks and leaving the glory to others.
Yours to lose
Patty had delivered in every job she'd had at the firm for 15 years. When her boss was moved to head a different division, senior management asked her to step in as interim division president while they did a thorough internal and external search for the new president.
Patty kept doing exactly what she'd been doing. She finished the year's strategic planning and got senior management excited about her plans. She kept managing operations -- and delivering her numbers. She kept moving ahead with the organizational evolution she and her previous boss had put in place, inspiring and enabling all -- without moving into her previous boss's office or taking his title. This minimized envy from others on the team.
In the end, senior management would have looked silly picking anyone but her for the role. It turned out Patty was on probation. Her approach and results were entirely appropriate for someone on probation and were a big part of why she got the permanent role.
We often suggest leaders of change bring in fall guys. Change agents often don't survive the change they need to instill. The reason is that the changes they make inevitably result in pain and suffering for a lot of people. The leader becomes the symbol of the change -- and of all the pain. When the change is complete, the survivors may not be able to disassociate the leader from their pain and may not be able fully to trust that the leader has their best interests at heart.
Fall guys deflect this. By bringing in someone to spearhead the change, the leader can avoid being the symbol of the pain. Once the change is complete the leader can dismiss the person spearheading the effort and say something like "Now that we're rid of that awful person, we can back to doing what we do best: serving customers and building the business." Outside consultants are great for this task. Alternately you can bring an interim change leader.
If you're that interim change leader, know that you're not going to survive. Make sure you're compensated for what you do, not for the long-term results you enable. (You're not likely to be around to see those rewards.) Think cash and bonus. Not equity.
In any interim role that you know is not going to be permanent, you need an exit plan. Could be a role reporting to the person that takes over for you. Could be a different role somewhere else in the organization. Could be a role with a different organization. Either way, make sure you know what's going to happen when your interim role comes to an end -- which it will.
BRAVE Interim Management
Environment: Understand the context including whether the job is yours to lose or not yours.
Values: Understand what matters and why -- what you must accomplish and what principles you cannot violate.
Attitude: Adopt the right attitude for the situation, making appropriate strategic, posture and cultural choices.
Relationships: Whether the leadership role is permanent of interim, the heart of leadership is always connecting with other.
Behaviors: In an interim role think in terms of two time-frames for impact: things that impact current results and things that lay the foundation for future results.