How is Interim Leadership Different Than Traditional Leadership?

How is Interim Leadership Different Than Traditional Leadership?

An interim leader is a different breed of highly specialized talent.  Traditional leaders take a holistic long-term view of an organization’s evolution towards fulfilling a stated mission. They concentrate on creating a trajectory of sustainability and success that assures an organization is evolving with the community it serves.

Interim leaders have a shorter term scope of issues, and thus act accordingly, though they typically serve the same cause and work towards similar goals.

There are several key differences between interim and nonprofit leaders.

1. Interim Leaders Set Their Sights On Goals and Preparation For Their Successors

By nature, an interim leadership role is temporary. That means a part of that person’s job will be setting up for the next person to take charge. Great interims look at all the systems of the organization, help the board to understand what is needed in its next leader, and apply appropriate fixes to organizational issues that are standing in the way of its functionality and viability.

These can include a clearer planning focus, resolution of financial issues, policy review, or restructured fundraising practices.  Interims are important third-party evaluators and experienced nonprofit leaders that help organizations get the organization ready for making the right hire for leading its future with a solid foundation of organizational functionality in place.

2. Interim Leaders Take On Projects Differently

There are few issues that an interim would encounter that would be different from that of a permanent person.  It’s how the two individuals would go about managing those circumstances that would be quite different.  For example, an interim who is helping a nonprofit organization to dissolve or merge with another nonprofit organization would view the entire process differently.  A permanent leader might view the situation as the end of his or her career.

The interim, on the other hand, would simply see the transaction as a completion of his or her current assignment.

An interim may be hired for one particular skill that is most needed in the moment such as fundraising, planning or financial management.  The permanent person may be hired to have a more balanced portfolio of skills.  The primary difference is urgency.

A leadership vacancy right before an organization’s largest fundraiser of the year might warrant a complete focus on resource development from an interim for a short period of time.  Interims are a great solution for short-term, urgent circumstances, that, once resolved, invites a different kind of permanent leader once the issue has been taken care of.


3. Interim Leaders Tackle Challenges In A Unique Way

There are always two challenges associated with interim leadership: providing effective short-term leadership versus long-term leadership, and the management of organizational culture and emotion that goes with that unique assignment. An interim works from a perspective of “deliverables” while a permanent leader works from a perspective of “goals.”

Everyone involved with the organization, including the interim, will suffer significantly, if there is not an understood set of deliverables.

An untrained interim is likely to look at the situation as a job rather than as an intervention.  Being trained to deliver effective leadership interventions is an acquired skill and a body of management knowledge.

If an untrained interim approaches the position as a short-term job, the greatest suffering occurs when the successor follows an interim and has to “undo” many of the things that the interim put into place.

Whether your cause is raising funds for global health, fighting against homelessness, or cultivating talent within your industry, having strong leadership is essential. When it comes to interim nonprofit leadership, understanding the differences between interim and traditional leadership and stepping into your roll accordingly will benefit your cause and those who serve it. To learn more aboutThird Sector Company and nonprofit interim leadership, sign up for our newsletter!

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