A major component of what an interim leader brings to clients is his or her expertise as a coach and mentor. In fact, the likelihood that the interim will become a coach or a mentor to leaders in the client organization is high. In their book The Interim Manager, Clutterbuck and Dearlove describe how some companies “explicitly state that part of the interim manager’s brief should be to use his or her experience to ‘mentor’ more junior managers.” Incumbent leaders realize quickly that they can tap into an interim’s wealth of experience, wisdom, and insight.
Often an interim’s role as a coach to client leaders happens as a spin-off to their core assignment. For example, this is a reference provided by an interim’s client: “His authenticity and integrity were an important supporting element in his effectiveness within and beyond the team. He is a very skilled and supportive coach and brings expertise resource to members of the team. He was continually sought out for support and input by many on a regular basis, including me.” Such contributions are a regular occurrence for an interim.
An interim leader has experience in a wide range of organizations, cultures, and sectors, and brings deep insight. An interim has been immersed in leadership challenges and knows what works and what doesn’t. An interim may coach a client to make significant professional changes and chart a voyage of self-discovery, as well as offering them organizational advice, ideas, and solutions. An interim leader is a versatile, culturally tuned coach with many tools in his or her toolkit. As well as gaining the expertise for which they hired the interim, client organizations and leaders also get a senior business counsellor who adds value to the team. An interim’s contribution is rich in depth as well as breadth.
The best coaches have high emotional intelligence – a well-developed awareness of their personal, inter-personal, and contextual emotional connection with those around them. An interim’s high-EQ coaching ability derives from a mixture of personality, experience, maturity, and the virtues that set him or her apart as a transformational leader. An interim leader often develops his or her coaching prowess through time, however this may not be directly associated with an interim’s age. As Russell and Daniell point out in Interim Management: “Interim managers must of course be experienced but they must also have demonstrable track record of success and achievement and that need not come with age.” As an interim develops his or her craft during years of varying assignments, the interim is exposed to situations that further develop an interim’s expertise as an emotionally intelligent coach.
In Everyone Needs a Mentor, David Clutterbuck discusses the fact that mentors exercise four styles of behavior to help others learn – stretching, directive, non-directive, and nurturing. An interim rarely trains to be a professional mentor, but an interim’s experience lends itself readily to this role and adds value to the client.
An interim leader typically offers mentoring support as an informal spin-off of their contribution, rather than as part of a formal assignment or mentoring program that may be offered in a client organization. The interim’s relationships with senior leaders and executives often means that the interim can be a “listening ear” to these leaders. Clutterbuck discusses this aspect of executive mentoring and goes on to say, “To be effective, professional mentors have to have a broad knowledge and exposure to business direction, to the patterns of senior management thinking and behavior.” An interim has often worked as a senior leader and with senior leaders while tackling significant organizational challenges; given this deep and varied experience an interim is an effective mentor.
There is often a significant overlap between an interim’s contracted accountabilities and providing coaching and mentoring support to clients. For example, a CEO may ask an interim leader for feedback on the impact that members of the board are having on the organization. Depending on the challenges the CEO is facing with the board members, the interim’s response may broaden into senior-level coaching and mentoring, giving advice on succession planning, culture building, and resourcing. As a versatile, experienced coach and mentor, particularly to senior leadership, an interim leader is of tremendous value in instances of broad organizational dynamics.
Kouzes and Posner discuss the virtue of “strengthening others” in The Leadership Challenge. Because an interim leader has such a rich and diverse career of doing just that, the interim’s ability to coach and mentor others to strengthen those around them is of great value to client organizations, leaders, and teams.