When is an Interim Leader Helpful? 

Organizations often ask why they should hire an external Interim Executive Director (ED) rather than promote a senior manager to an Acting ED position until a permanent ED is hired. While an internal appointment is sometimes an option there are several reasons an external Interim ED serves your organization better, including: 

Lessening the possibility of executive burnout that often results from adding the interim position responsibilities to a current senior manager’s role.  

Often when a senior manager is appointed as the interim ED they are undertaking that role in addition to their current responsibilities. This can result in burnout and neither role having the full attention of the individual. 

Providing an organization space after the retirement of a longtime beloved ED, and lessons comparisons between the new ED and the old ED. 

When an organization immediately recruits a new ED after the tenure of a long-term, beloved ED, the new ED is often and regularly compared with the previous ED by staff and Board. This makes it difficult for the new ED to settle in and be accepted for themselves. 

Providing the Board with fresh perspectives.  

An interim ED can offer a fresh perspective on your organization’s strengths and challenges. An Interim ED often assists an organization to develop new directions that enable it to move out of an entrenched pattern of decision–making that perpetuates underlying challenges. They also may complete an organizational review to help your organization examine what is really going on through a fresh set of eyes. This can result in new solutions to old problems.  As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. 

Providing an organization with time, after the departure of an ED under questionable circumstances, to resolve outstanding issues.  

Coming into an organization that is in a “crisis” mode due to the unexpected departure of its ED provides the Interim ED with an opportunity to assess the strengths, challenges, and needs of the organization.  

Allowing the Interim ED to act as the change agent when change is required.  

Experienced Interim EDs can encourage necessary change in your organization. An Interim ED often brings about necessary change prior to the recruitment of the permanent ED. This allows the permanent ED to quickly move forward with a renewed organization, without having to own the change process and the potential unrest that comes with it.   

Providing the Board with an opportunity, if necessary, to undertake some strategic thinking, including reviewing/updating the Strategic Plan. 

An Interim ED will be able to assist you in completing a quick review of your Strategic Plan to ensure that it is current. If needed, the Interim ED can support an organization in updating its Strategic Plan.     

Assisting the Board to assess a potential merger before committing to a permanent ED. 

An interim ED can objectively assess a merger opportunity without being concerned with its impact on their job. If a merger occurs the interim ED can assist in identifying the skill sets required for the ED of the newly merged organization. 

Informing the recruitment process for the permanent ED. 

An Interim ED will be able to assist the organization in recruiting the bestsuited permanent ED by identifying the skill set and experience required to move the organization forward.  

Maintaining operations during the permanent ED search. 

An interim ED provides ongoing leadership to the management team so programming can seamlessly continue during the search process for the permanent ED. 

Hire an external Interim ED – Yes or No? 

Though there are many advantages to hiring an Interim ED, it’s not a flawless solution. The one disadvantage that often holds an organization back is the cost. It will seem expensive in the short term, but it can be weighed against the long-term cost of missing out on the value they can provide. Stability, change management, and input into the recruitment of your future permanent ED provide great benefits that will outweigh the up-front cost over time. Lastly, your Interim ED will save you time and money by helping to manage the permanent ED recruitment process, so you can be sure that the replacement person aligns well with the mission and vision of your organization. 

Ellis Katsof is a Principal with The Osborne Group – Interim Senior Executive – NFP Sector.