The opportunities of Interim Chief Executive role

The beauty and demands of the desert (near Dunhuang, China)

The beauty and demands of the desert (Dunhuang, China)


Recently I’ve had the privilege of coaching two interim Chief Executives. They were ‘stepping up’ whilst a new Chief Executive was recruited. You don’t have a lot of time to prepare for this role and there’s the added, unnerving, frisson of suddenly being ‘above’ your former colleagues. You’re rather exposed, on some kind of ridge, a familiar landscape only, somehow… different, a little colder.

But it’s a great place to be and one to use to full advantage. The ‘view’ is different.  Here are some key actions – and speed is important if this is going to work for you and the organisation.

  1. You should make a good and quick connection with your Chair and Board and see how they view the organisation’s priorities. It will likely be quite like yours, but not the same  – more attention to risks, not so knowing about staffing issues.
  2. Agree how much it is a holding operation and how much you should be taking things forward. If you will be moving some issues, what, and can you be as precise as possible about what needs to be done?
  3. Be assertive about what, in your existing job, can’t be done if you are now acting CEO, and what happens to those areas of work. You don’t to have disasters behind you.
  4. Ask the Chair to say clearly to your other senior managers what you’ve been commissioned to do, especially any HR issues: you need cover.
  5. Then, more personally, ask yourself what you want to get out of this period of time. Are there some actions or areas of work that you have wanted to try but haven’t been able to, because they are not in your remit? What would you like your CV to look like?
  6.  Agree a plan with your Chair and include some objectives that are a bit scary. The last Chief Executive will have ducked at least one issue – we all do – and you’ll know the ones that the staff would like resolved. What did they not do that you can now do? If you tackle something like this, you’ll feel good about yourself and have a change to mark up for the organisation and your cv.
  7. Occupy the space of the leader. Shoulders relaxed and back, but move forward when there’s a point to be made! Use your management tools, eg the priorities of the business plan, to cut through friendship into change and action. Walk the organisation. Keep smiling. Don’t work all hours. Reflect hard.
  8. Use outside support for reflection and building your courage. If it feels slippery, steep and the air a bit thin, you’re probably doing a good job! But don’t suffer, it’s not worth it.

Sophie’s interim coaching offer

Here are comments from an interim Chief Executive about my coaching support to her early in 2015 – which was a pleasure to give, I may say! How brilliant it is is when people ‘step up’ and help the organisation in this critical time.

Judgement – I felt your judgement on management, leadership and people was excellent and instinctive.  This meant you could give excellent advice on a scenario on the spot, and it was always reliable.

Emotion – I felt you were empathetic and supportive but never at the expense of being honest and professional.  So, you would offer support beyond what was required but would also tell it like it is.

Maturity – you always remained calm in a situation, no matter how stressful, and never took the easy route of trying to blame someone or just let off steam.  We had to deal with a number of extremely taxing situations and I felt you always behaved in a professional manner and put your role before any personal frustrations you might have felt.

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