As the world of work changes, the need for interim leaders is growing. “We’re at a unique moment in human history where power is dispersing from organizations to individuals,” notes Taylor Pearson in The End of Jobs. This insight, together with sound research and the voices of business leaders, clients, and interim leaders, adds weight to the argument for interim leaders. As the positive impact of interim leaders becomes more evident, and the familiarity with interim leadership grows, business leaders will look increasingly at these professional leaders as a significant resource to build their organizations.
Today’s workplace values skilled, independent contractors who work alongside full-time employees. This is an ideal environment for interim leaders as well as specialists and consultants. In fact, Diane Mulcahy’s observation about the future of work, described in The Gig Economy, is consistent with the world that interim leaders have already discovered. She predicts that by the time today’s kids grow up, becoming an employee and getting a full-time job will be the exception, not the rule. Interim leaders embrace this reality and already know that having a diverse portfolio of “good work”, as Mulcahy explains it, “will be the new normal, and being a full-time employee for a single employer the exception.” This shift to a “gig economy” is a fertile context for “gig leaders”—highly skilled interim leaders.
More than ever, the vacuum of immediately available expert leaders needs to be filled. Employers and leaders must increasingly exercise foresight and agility as they resource organizations. Mike Johnson observed in the 1998 Economist Intelligence Unit report, “There is a new phenomenon sweeping the global business world: a serious shortage of qualified people to meet the fast-growing needs of corporations.” This phenomenon is even more prevalent in today’s organizations.
Engaging an interim leader is an effective approach to leading and building organizations; it is also a mark of those who embrace change. Consider Charles Handy’s insights in The Second Curve: “. . .to move forward in many areas of life it is sometimes necessary to change radically, to start a new course that will be different from the existing one, often requiring a whole new way of looking at familiar problems. Those who have been in charge of the first curve have to begin to think differently about the future, or, more often, let others lead the way up the new curve.” Handy echoes Mulcahy’s predictions about the shift to a “gig economy” when he writes, “I have often wondered why more individuals with valuable specialist skills do not step outside the organization, selling their skills or intellectual property back into the organization instead of giving it away for a salary – it may only be a matter of time before the contractual organization becomes the norm.”
An interim leader is at the cutting edge of this change in the workplace. The conventional world of work with long-standing organizational job hierarchies and impregnable leadership cliques is ineffective for competitive organizations in the twenty-first century. In modern organizations, the paradigm of effective leadership is not something as simplistic as a stable, long-standing group of leaders who have been with the organization since college.
The world of work is changing. Corporations that have entertained or embraced an interim leader as part of the solution to growth and transformation almost unanimously celebrate this option as a success. Leaders who embrace diverse leadership models and look beyond the wall of familiar solutions will be at the front of the pack. As Giles Hutchins notes in Future Fit, “The times in which we live herald paradigmic and metamorphic shifts challenging what we do and the way we do it, calling into question our sense of purpose, and demanding wholly new ways of creating and delivering value.”