Interim Leaders Help Steady the Ship in Uncertain Times

By Melinda Leonardo, Director, AGB Search Interim Practice August 14, 2020 May 11th, 2021 Blog Post

As we approach the beginning of the academic year, there are many questions institution leaders are grappling with, including, “What is the best approach to handling a senior leader’s departure?” Of course, there are several possibilities, such as promoting an internal candidate or launching an executive search while the position remains vacant. There is another option – one that can help assure continuity during a time of uncertainty:  the appointment of an interim leader.

Leadership Gaps Cost Money

Some may posit that an open position is an opportunity to preserve organizational finances. Not having to pay salary and benefits means saving on expenditures, right? Not necessarily. Leadership vacancies can result in financial loss (it is widely noted that vacancies cost one to three times the employee’s annual salary), reduced productivity, and strain on the remaining team members when people are already quite stressed. Continuity is imperative – not just to business operations, but also to morale.

With some permanent searches being delayed or put on hold because of campus closures and distancing practices, this is an especially difficult time to be faced with a leadership gap. Depending on the position, some vacancies can last six months or more. Campuses need consistency now more than ever; an interim leader can step in quickly to minimize disruption and help keep the institution running as smoothly as possible.

What to Look for in an Interim Leader

Navigating uncertainty takes experience, particularly in a new environment. When considering interim leadership, assess candidates on a number of attributes, such as long-term and deep experience in similar leadership roles. Interim leaders are available at all levels, including:

  • Presidents
  • Provosts/CAOs
  • CFOs
  • VPs of Enrollment Management, Advancement, External Affairs, Student Affairs
  • Chief Human Resources Officers
  • General Counsels
  • Deans

The best interim appointments are seasoned professionals who have sat in leadership seats and can jump in at full speed while understanding the unique and nuanced needs of particular institutions.

In the current environment, it is also wise to secure candidates who have experience in crisis management. The coming year is expected to bring more unknowns, so self-possession, empathy, flexibility, and patience are also desirable skills.

Develop Clarity around Roles and Authority

Before the hiring process begins, develop a position description specifically for the interim leader, including goals for which he or she will be held accountable. The document should also include responsibilities that are not part of the role. It is prudent to communicate whether the individual appointed to an interim post has the latitude to be candid in their assessment of the current institutional situation, to make significant changes, and/or to analyze and develop strategies around long-term needs.

It is also important to consider whether the interim leader will have a role in the selection of a permanent successor, or if he or she would be considered for the permanent position. Determining these considerations up front can help the process unfold successfully with all parties in alignment.

Hiring Interim Leadership Virtually

At AGB Search, we have conducted entire leadership searches virtually with resounding success. As with permanent searches, many institutions are opting to conduct interim searches virtually as well. Virtual searches can be highly effective and contribute to a more expeditious process. Because the interim leader may work remotely, the hiring process need not be different. With that said, it is up to the candidate and the institution to decide whether it’s most appropriate to join the team in person or remotely.

Regardless of the appointee’s location, it is essential to establish strong lines of communication with enough regularity to facilitate success without impeding performance.

AGB Search Is Here to Help

AGB Search established its Interim Search division more than seven years ago to assist institutions in allowing ample time to find a permanent leader. We assist with identifying transitional leadership to support institutions and minimize interruption.

References and Resources

With Thanks to AGB Sponsor: AGB Search

AGB Search

Melinda Leonardo, PhD
AGB Search Interim Search Practice

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