Interim leadership and the changing world of work collide in ways that have been anticipated for many decades.
William Bridges looked ahead to the twenty-first century in Jobshift and predicted that today’s workers need to “forget jobs completely and look instead for work that needs doing – and then set themselves up as the best way to get that work done.” In 1994, this was indeed a radical view of the future; today, interim leaders are at the front of the pack in this new world of work. Bridges’ prophecy hasn’t accelerated as fast as he may have predicted, but the growth of temporary jobs in the workplace is a definite trend. His observation that everyone is a contingent worker led Bridges to suggest that workers need to “develop a mindset, an approach to work, and a way of managing their own careers that is more like that of an external vendor than a traditional employee. Workers will be wise to think that they are ‘in business for themselves.’” This applies not only to professionals and technicians, but also to leaders; interims in particular must make this transformation. As Bridges notes, employees need to consider “what it will be like to let go of the whole cluster of attitudes, expectations, assumptions, self-images, and values that went with the idea of ‘having a job.’”
In The Gig Economy Diane Mulcahy describes those who succeed in today’s workplace as shifting from “an Employee Mindset to an Opportunity Mindset.” This is a shift that interims embrace as they actively carve out their careers. Mulcahy describes how workers with Opportunity Mindsets “see themselves as active creators, builders, and architects of their own career trajectories, not the recipients of them. They accept and expect to generate their own customized version of security, stability, and identity that is separate from any one company or organization. They create their own visions of success and work to achieve it.”
Another perspective on the shifting mindset towards work and what motivates an interim leader is discussed by David Corbett in The Portfolio Life. Corbett paints a picture of mature workers who “create a balance of work, learning, leisure, family time, giving back, etc.” Certainly, as a career choice, being an interim leader dovetails with Corbett’s view of, “working in the form you want”, although his focus on this as an option instead of retirement is not how an interim sees his or her role. An Interim leader has an Opportunity Mindset. An interim is looking less to create personal balance—although an interim career offers this —but rather to align work opportunities and organizational challenges with personal and professional strengths.
“Interim Management is not working temporarily at one job while you are waiting for the next ‘proper’ job to come along — it is a career choice,” note McGovern and Russell in A New Brand of Expertise. To be an effective interim, they explain, requires an independence of thought and action that is different from that of a permanent employee who is concerned about keeping his or her job. McGovern and Russell’s observations further reinforce the reasons why an interim decides to pursue this mode of working.
The need for interim leaders is growing. Senior leaders are more aware of the significant value that an interim leader brings to organizations in accelerating growth and transformation. Traditional approaches to leadership are inadequate for modern organizations, and as Marshall Goldsmith suggests in his book of the same title, “What got you here won’t get you there” – old habits that once brought success are now delaying progress.
Clients need high-caliber, experienced, and dynamic leaders who take ownership of major projects, build relationships, and deliver results. An interim leader is a resource that is more readily available than ever. In fact, many experienced leaders and subject-matter experts are taking charge of their careers by becoming interim leaders — today’s gig leaders. An interim leader plays to his or her strengths, delivers high-value results to clients, and creates a portfolio career that works to both the interim’s and client’s advantage in the growing gig economy.