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What it Takes to be a Good Interim Manager / Executive

The essential qualities needed to be a successful and indeed effective ‘Interim.’

The concept of ‘Interim Managers’ is still a mystery and they are often asked why they would wish to take on such an uncertain way of life. It does appear to be a ‘calling.’ They are obviously not interested in a routine existence and of course there is hunger for a challenge to change the state of things. They know they are able to do it too, because they have successfully done so on numerous occasions.

Having probably reached a point in their career, ‘ Interim Executives’, both men and women, who have typically reached senior management level – ‘go-it-alone’ and this would indicate their suitablility for a very demanding way of life.

Until their very first assignment, potential ‘Interim Managers/Executives’ have a great desire to prove to themselves that they are on the right course. Notably there are only a few to whom they can refer as there are merely just a few hundred in the U.K. with many more aspiring candidates ‘waiting in the wings’ for their very first opportunity.

Substantial change and the implementation experience to make it happen are essential qualities of a good ‘Interim Manager / Executive.’ Together with strong interpersonal and communication skills, plus team leadership capabilities. The demonstration of these qualities is paramount, especially when an ‘Executive Interim’ is placed in a crisis situation, requiring a fast turnaround.

Typically ‘Interim Executives’ will have a track record of at least five to ten years at board level within those companies turning over anything between £20 million to £2bn. They will have held a Senior General Management position, i.e Chief Executive or indeed have been a head of function – Either a Finance Director, I.T Director, Sales / Marketing Director, H.R Director and Manufacturing or Logistics Director. They might have gained ‘hands-on’ experience within a mix of blue-chip and smaller organisations; they are far less likely to have worked only for one organisation or to have moved a lot, without evidence of solid achievement in their permanent career. Their C.V’s might indicate that they have progressed on the basis of achievement rather than through political manoeuvring.

Within the environment of ‘Interim Management’ typical ‘change’ implementation experience would include :- restructurings, turnarounds, acquisitions, mergers start-ups, down sizing and
preparation for sale or closure. The involvement for the ‘Interim’ would have been very much ‘hands on’ with a proven successful outcome on a multiple basis, in testing situations.

Personal attributes would include being a high-achiever, someone who is proactive, results orientated, positive, prefers a’ hands-on approach’ and is able to make things happen. Someone politically sensitive, without necessarily being drawn into company politics. They should have an ability to work at different levels and to be able to demonstrate flexibility. Fluency in foreign languages and an understanding of business and cultural issues are very useful and would widen the opportunities for assignments.

The ability to step into an organisation on day one, high calibre ‘Interims’ will establish immediate credibility – particularly important as it may be the client’s first introduction of an ‘Interim Executive’ to the organisation, at, or near board level. Equally the company might have utilised ‘Interim management’ resources before and so would have very high expectations, particularly if the assignment was very successful. The ‘Interim’ would quickly establish a team relationship with their peer group and generally sell the concept of ‘why they are there’ on arrival. Exceptional interpersonal skills and a very positive attitude should be immediately apparent and their ‘over-qualification’ would ensure quick integration. A sense of humour is not a bad requirement either, especially when under lots of pressure!

Interims are likely to be in their mid forties/fifties are excellent at self-management and have high stamina levels. Interim Management work is very demanding, requiring long working hours and substantial travel. The ability to be flexible regarding location is very important. When the opportunity of a well-matched assignment materialises, the ‘Interim Manager’ must be ready to move quickly and show a willingness to be away from home on most occasions. Most of the ‘Interims’ are away during the week, returning home for weekends and so must have long-suffering partners and families who will offer strong support in those situations. The work can be very intensive and the hours long. There must, therefore, be a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach their goals.

Good ‘Interim Executives’ will have chosen the right time to go independent. Financial security and fulfilled permanent career ambitions are key requirements. They must be able to run their own business, manage themselves (both in/out of assignments) successfully satisfying demanding clients with high expectations of instant results. Prospective clients should move quickly to secure the ‘Interim’s’ interest in undertaking a challenge, to avoid the risk of being ‘snapped up’ by a competitor.

True ‘Interims’ are a rare breed and will always want to test their skills to prove yet again they can make a difference, when given the opportunity.

About the Author: J Hadley writes on behalf of Executive Interims - Supply Chain Practice. See:

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