In the Financial Times recently (“Why a past record is no guide to future success”), Andrew Hill questioned how much a leadership candidate’s past CV alone should be a guide for how they handle their next job. He asserts that successful leadership is more than just having qualifications for the position. Interviewing and assessing hundreds of interim executives each year, I agree.
Few permanent executives can match the range of business experience of an interim executive. Because interims manage a different situation every six to nine months, they become a specialist generalist able to handle most business change and transition situations.
In his new book, Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein claims executives are “digging deeper into their own trench and rarely standing up to look into the next.” “In complex and uncertain times those who embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.” Interim executives move to the next “trench” each time they change assignment (on average, every nine months), applying what they’ve learned-while spreading new ways of delivering change.
As interim executives are building their CVs, they are also building successful careers as generalist expert game-changers by managing different situations in rapid succession.
Experience alone doesn’t make a successful interim executive – otherwise, there would be thousands of these expert game-changers across the UK. Successful interim executives possess a range of competencies that helps them apply their experience most effectively.
Resilience and emotional balance are high on the list when starting a new assignment in a different environment. Interims must be able to make complex decisions rapidly, understanding the strategic implications of their actions. Above all, interim executives are there to deliver a brief – they must manage their stakeholders, take the tough decisions, and be courageous leaders.
A combination of experience and competence are challenging to get across on a CV-so I make sure I interview all executives who look suitable for interim work. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. But each meeting also underlines that successful interim executives are a rare mix of diverse experiences, competencies which enable change and the unique human quality of wanting to help others.
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