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Calm hands, experienced head – interim executives are just what businesses need today.

9th April 2020

Necessity breeds positive change. The uncertainty caused by the global virus will test the strengths and weaknesses of all businesses. Leadership teams will soon know where fixes are needed and where the next opportunities will come from.

Once contingency plans, risk assessments and scenario planning are done, business critical ‘to do’ lists will confirm priorities – which must  be delivered.

Appointing a proven interim executive injects reassuring, hands-on experience immediately. Most important though, they deliver. Whether it’s managing crisis, change, transition or growth – all demand a calm head and lots of experience of having done it before.

The great thing about these executives is that they are an experienced resource available immediately – a huge benefit today. They can work with your business for a few weeks – helping you confirm what needs to be done. You can then agree whether to engage for a longer assignment, perhaps up to 18 months. Imagine what gets done in that time!

Interim executives are rightly considered guardians of business sustainability, often making the difference between businesses surviving or failing during difficult times through adding critical experience. Why are they so effective?

What is of critical importance when delivering change, much more so today, is people skills. On this week’s British Academy of Management webinar Professor Cary Cooper extolled the importance of emotional intelligence, the ability to empathise and to communicate with people when leading or managing in difficult circumstances. Salovey and Mayer (1990) introduced the concept of emotional intelligence (EI), describing it as the ‘ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’.

When leading and managing transition and change in businesses, the most successful interim executives will measure strongly in EI. When leadership is conducted through video conference, the ability to deploy EI can be the difference between success and failure to engage.

In their paper on Effective Interim Leadership and Management, Woods et al. (2019) discovered that executives who are successful at managing change on an interim basis are distinctly people-focused. Having interviewed some of the UK’s most effective interim executives, the competencies Professor Woods found in spades were those which allowed them to engage with people: communication, emotional intelligence, sensitivity and patience,

There are thousands of self-declared interims promoting themselves today. But in today’s business environment, only those displaying competencies of human engagement will really succeed – particularly as much interaction will be ‘virtual’ for weeks, perhaps months.

There are hundreds not thousands of great interim executives in the UK today. These are executives able to handle most kinds of transition and change with an immediate start.

The benefits of hiring one of these executives are compelling to businesses managing change and uncertainty, when extra experience is needed rapidly. 

  • They have years of hands-on business experience – they know how to interpret a brief and deliver it;
  • They don’t need managing – they’ve delivered many successful assignments before;
  • They’ll pass on all their relevant experience – they’re motivated to leave capability in place;
  • Focused only on the assignment, they’re a highly efficient deployment of your resources.

I’ve been helping firms manage most change situations requiring interim executives for 15 years and in that time the competencies which define effective interim executives haven’t changed. If your business needs extra experience for a period of time – whether for a few weeks or for a few months – this is a good time to engage an interim executive


Cooper, C., Parry, E., & Beech, N (2020. April 2). Managing teams through the COVID-19 crisis: Future of work, mental health and wellbeing [Webinar]. In British Academy of Management Webinars. Retrieved from

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185–211. doi: 10.2190/dugg-p24e-52wk-6cdg

Woods, S. A., Diprose, N., Murphy, M., & Thomas, G. (2019). Effective Interim Leadership and Management:  Development of a Cyclical Model of Interim Assignments. In British Academy of Management Conference 2019. Retrieved from

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