Predictions for the Interim Executive Profession in the New Year

Predictions for the Interim Executive Profession in the New Year

What We’re Seeing for ’23


By Cynthia Flash, Flash Media Services

For Third Sector Company


This year is going to be like no other for the community impact organizations we serve. They are coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are facing the “great resignation,” and the state of the economy is uncertain. While no year is the same as the previous one, the unknowns for 2023 are especially considerable.


While we at Third Sector Company don’t have a crystal ball, we do have 20 years of experience from which to draw, connections to more than 300 interim executive directors, and relationships with over 900 nonprofits in the United States and Canada.


Based on our experience and conversations with nonprofit leaders and those practicing in the sector, we expect interim chief executives will be focusing on employee/team wellness, diversity and equity, board governance, and development as they are called to manage even more complex challenges in 2023.


Here is what we see as the future of the interim executive director profession in the coming year:


1. Emotional intelligence will be the name of the game.


Walking into organizations in a state of flux makes it incumbent on interim executives to have the ability to recognize, understand and manage their own emotions, as well as being able to understand and influence the emotions of others.


This involves being aware that emotions drive behaviors and impact people either positively or negatively.


The fact is each person experiencing a leadership transition is going through some sort of trauma. This is true whether they have just said goodbye to a beloved executive or are trying to pick up the pieces left behind by an executive who was severed from the organization.


Today, interims must quickly identify the stressors people in all corners of an organization are facing and lead based on quiet confidence, compassion, humility, and self-awareness. It’s about accepting responsibility as well as criticism. Executives must be able to read the room and meet people where they are while making sure they don’t assume their interpretations are always accurate about what they are seeing,


During a recent roundtable with interim executives, one boldly observed, “Sometimes more experience means operating from more assumptions. We must have the humility to say, `I see this. It might be that, but let me check in to make sure what I’m seeing is correct.’”


The successful interim in 2023 is intelligent about walking into new situations and asking others, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”  It’s also a deliberate demonstration of active listening every moment on the job to keep assumptions in check about what’s happening and how people are experiencing their space on the other side of the table.


2. DEIA – now more than ever.


Today, Interim Executives must not be afraid to engage in discussions surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). Plan on the conversations being tough; and that means transitional leaders must be able to figure out ways to lean into a discussion and how to manage it when it becomes tense.


It’s important to treat all people with respect and not pre-judge individuals based on their age, ability, race, gender, or anything else. It’s important to let individuals declare their own identities and invite an open sharing of their experiences that will speak for themselves to each listener.  Sometimes our pre-judging and biases are so deeply buried that we don’t recognize it.


In its training programs, Third Sector Company continually underscore that interim executives have a responsibility to call out, shout out and point out as part of their taking visible responsibility for DEIA.


If injustice is happening to a group of people, it must be “called out” and stopped. Biases and assumptions must be “pointed out” every step of the way; and people should earn a “shout out” for having beautifully demonstrated how to appropriately include people, celebrate differences, facilitate equitable decision-making, and cultivate belongingness.


Interim Executives are transformational disrupters and truth tellers.


Engaged in a temporary position, they can often speak a level of truth that others would hesitate for fear of job loss. Notwithstanding job motivation, every interim must recognize that when confronted with the challenges and hurts of systemic racism, they must be realistic as to what can be achieved during their time with an organization and consider which aspects of advancing DEIA really should be left to the permanent future executive.


3. Staffing and workplace culture in flux


Organizational transitions should happen with people, not to people. If only that were how most transitions happen.


Nonprofit boards often engage an interim executive to bring leadership to a successful change process. Both the board and interim must orchestrate the transition with humility, love, and inclusiveness, which allows those working for the organization to become part of that change.


Third Sector Company placed more interim executives than ever before in 2022. We believe the great resignation among nonprofit CEOs will hit a peak in 2023, which means an even greater demand for transitional leadership with skills working with organizations in flux.  This is also occurring at a time when research clearly indicates that the nonprofit workplace is reporting extremely high levels of employee dissatisfaction.


What is promising is that interims report that they are going into organizations that are less averse to change as a result of their survival approaches to weathering the pandemic.


People want to change and improve. Executives report seeing a hunger inside organizations for things to be done differently.


We believe the job of interims is to manage the pace of evolution, careful not to overpromise what can be done in a typical six- to nine-month engagement. Interims don’t have all the answers and aren’t going to solve all the problems. They can, however, shepherd an aligning process that comes from within the organization and a transition that is owned by the people impacted by the organization.


4. Board dynamics impact the organization


Boards that adapted during the COVID years are still trying to figure out new ways of working – whether it’s time to return to the way it was before COVID or to keep some aspects of their roles and ways of governing the same.


It wouldn’t be surprising to see nonprofit boards consider out-of-the-box/hybrid work arrangements for themselves and as a way to attract the appropriate interim talent.  This is especially true as more and more trustees of community causes engage with more contemporary governance ideas.


One example would be the concept of a “High Impact Board,” which is distinctly external facing, activist and movement focused, and constantly reminded of being part of an eco-system rather than independent.


When it comes to the relationship with the board, the role of the interim is morphing at Mach speed.


Looking ahead, what was once solely an employee and employer is becoming a multi-faceted consumer of board consultation services.


The year ahead will be filled with challenges for many community impact organizations. Our interim executives have the training, experience, and knowledge to help them continue to bring their best to the communities they serve. If your nonprofit is preparing for an executive transition or you are interested in interim leadership, contact us today!



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