When you have a vacancy in your C-suite, every moment matters. Because the cost of leaving a seat empty at the head of the table is enormous, it’s time to think interim. An interim—whether that’s a CEO or another executive role—can quickly step in to fill the job on a short-term basis to help alleviate your company’s immediate challenges.

In this article, we explore the unique traits and drivers of interim CEOs and executives—what we call their leadership mindset--and take a quick look at the process of finding and appointing one.

Who succeeds as an interim executive?

Executives who take interim CEO roles are veterans in leadership, with nothing to prove. They are already professionally and financially secure; each interim role is a new challenge where they know they can make a difference. They enjoy what they do and they’re good at it.

Importantly, they’re overqualified. A leader with previous experience heading up a $1bn business will be more than comfortable stepping in as an interim at a smaller $500m firm. This is not a situation where you want someone to learn on the job.

For the right person, being an interim leader brings great career flexibility. They choose assignments that suit and interest them, and they only sign up for a finite amount of time. If someone has the interim mindset, and are at an appropriate stage in their career, it’s a rewarding lifestyle.

Interim candidates are typically a mix of professional interims and corporate leaders open to flexible interim engagements. These people have the right leadership mindset and are at a career stage where they’re ready for a new challenge with plenty of gas in the tank. They’re generally not looking for the commitment of a permanent appointment. Their extensive experience and interim mentality means they’re more than capable of getting the job done.

The interim leadership mindset

Unsurprisingly, the challenges of an interim CEO job are not for everyone. The role requires a specific leadership mindset, an impressive track record and a particular set of skills. Here’s some of the top traits of interim executive candidates:

High IQ: Interims are strategic thinkers who keep their eye on the big picture. Agile and super-smart, they have to absorb and analyze a lot of information extremely quickly. Because of their intelligence, they also have a low boredom threshold, which means they’re able to thrive on change.

High EQ: Interim executives are often walking into a troubled situation and need the people skills to handle it. They tend to be engaging, with the ability to win over and influence a wide range of stakeholders right away. A good interim will start building trust with the internal team from day one. Most importantly, they’ll have the ability to calm emotions, rebuild morale and win people over during turbulent times.

Independence: Interims are happy working without a safety net and can quickly adapt to their new situation without overly relying on others. Similarly, they are comfortable with ambiguity – sometimes they arrive with only a few days’ notice and don’t have the lay of the land. Throw them in at the deep end and they will thrive.

Action-oriented: Interims know they’re working against the clock, and they move fast. They’re able to get up to speed quickly and make immediate impact. Forget about their first 100 days – they’re working on impact within the first 100 minutes.

Low ego: Interims aren’t in it for the glory, which is just as well because they’re unlikely to get the credit for their successes. They’re not into structure or hierarchy, and don’t seek to expand their power.

Mental resilience: This is a high-pressure role, and interims have to exceed expectations every day. They are often making difficult decisions which affect peoples’ lives, and still need to be able to sleep at night. Not everyone is able to focus and thrive under that kind of pressure, but interims are more than capable of handling it.

Apolitical: These are straight talkers who won’t sugar-coat a situation. They’re not people pleasers, because they don’t need to be – they have no skin in the game. They’re here to solve a specific problem, rather than ascend the corporate ladder. Interims bring a completely new perspective to the table.

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Interim Executives & Professionals

Lasting change starts with temporary talent

How to hire a temporary CEO

So, your organization has a vacancy at the top, and you know you need to fill that gap as quickly as possible before your business is impacted. What comes next? Where to begin in finding the right interim leader?

Most interim search firms offer an end-to-end solution. The entire process, from sourcing right through to off boarding, is taken care of for you by interim experts. A specialized firm will have a deep bench of proven leadership talent ready to go, and can have someone in post in a matter of days. Here’s a brief look at what a typical process looks like:

1. Mapping out the challenge: gaining a deep understanding about your current situation and your business so the firm understands what success in the role will look like

2.Search and shortlisting: analyzing and filtering a large network to find the best 2-3 candidates for the unique demands of the role in just a few days

3.Appointing your interim leader: it’s up to you to determine who will be the best fit for the unique chemistry and culture of your organization. Make the call and get them on the plane as soon as possible.

Why work with Korn Ferry?

As we have seen, successful interim executives have a unique leadership mindset. You can’t put just anyone in an interim leadership role and expect them to succeed, even if they look great on paper.

As a world-renowned organizational consulting firm, we have a deep understanding of both people and business. It’s this perspective that helps us identify the interim talent best fit to take your organization forward. If you need an interim executive quickly, we know what good looks like, and we know how to deliver when every moment matters.

This article is an excerpt from Interim CEOs: Big players, fast. Download the complete eBook to find out everything you need to know about interim leadership.

Want to find out more about our interim leadership practice? Get in touch with our team.

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