Turning Lemons Into Lemon Sorbet With Interim Leadership


We have published a number of posts on Leadership Transition over the year and attempted to argue the case for not for profit Boards to seriously consider following a formal Transition Program when recruiting a new CEO. Here Tara Levy of Greenlights points out that such a Program is of great benefit to an organisation even when the “recruitment phase” is not required.

Image from good-cooking.co.uk

I sat in the office of a board chair this week discussing her parting Chief Executive Officer, she shared her frustration that the already-identified successor couldn’t start for another 6 months. In our conversation, I shared my perspective that this was actually a great opportunity for the organisation to make ultimate use of an Interim CEO.

At Greenlights, we embrace the Prepare-Pivot-Thrive framework for executive transitions. This guides an organisation in clarifying its trajectory before bringing a new leader on board and highlights the importance of change management between the outgoing and incoming executive as a time for the organisation to both “detox” from the prior leader and set the new leader up for success. No matter how good or bad the outgoing ED has been, the organization will have been shaped by his style, preferences, and skills, and engaging an interim provides an opportunity to neutralize those adaptations or decisions with a focus on the mission. Because the interim is an objective, external consultant who does not have an eye towards creating processes that suit her personal talents or quirks (because she won’t be the one implementing them for the long-term), she is able to prepare the organisation for the next leader by making decisions that are more mission-centric than a regular CEO often can.

The interim often hears “but that’s not the way [former CEO] did it,” and she can respond by engaging the staff and board in conversations about the organisation’s mission and future, nonprofit best practices, and change management. It’s much easier for this professional in a consultant role to be on the receiving end of these comments because she is prepared to educate the board and staff as part of the transition to focus on the mission.

When an interim reorients an organisation towards its mission and pivot point, the staff and board prepare for the new leader and begin to set the organisation up for that new leader’s success.

I explained to this week’s board chair that having the next leader already identified would relieve some stress for the organisation during the transition but would still provide them the opportunity to bring in an interim to cleanse their palate from the prior leader’s preferences and personality. As it turns out, hiring an Interim CEO is a great way to turn lemons into lemon sorbet.

Article posted on Greenlights Blog – 2nd April 2014.

Image from good-cooking.co.uk

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

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