As an independent consultant, there have been times when I’ve been asked to step into the role of an interim leader while the company tries to find a permanent person to fill the position. For the most part I’ve loved it; but there have been a challenge or two along the way.
At one interim position I was selected specifically because I was black; now there’s a switch. The top finance guy was a bully who did some unethical things that I’m not going to mention. He was fighting the union that represented the people who were reporting to me, and every employee except one was black. The union rep had told them not to help me in any way but to do their jobs; that was that.
At another position I ran into a situation where I got on well with the employees and one of the supervisors reporting to me, but two other supervisors were used to doing things their way and, when I was gone for a long period over the holidays, found a way to help get me dismissed from the gig, even though the contract had been signed and I thought all was well.
What you learn is that every situation is different and that some of the tactics and processes you develop and follow will work great in some places while not working so well at others. You learn those lessons faster than someone who moves into a permanent leadership position because you get many more opportunities, yet the lessons learned are the types of lessons most leaders should learn.
For instance, one of the first questions a new leader should ask before taking a position is how much and what kind of authority they’re going to have over the employees. That’s probably the biggest thing to get out of the way, even if you don’t get the answer you’re expecting.
However, sometimes you get the answer you want, only to learn that it’s not true. In both of the instances above it turned out that the person who was my main contact didn’t quite have the authority they thought they had, thus telling me I was the final voice wasn’t true.
In the first example the man had the position but the union was stronger than he was; that was something I’d never encountered.
In the second example it turned out that the person I was reporting to shouldn’t have been the person I was reporting to, as his only authority was bringing me in.
In both of those examples, that wasn’t a question that I could ask up front, and certain nothing I could prepare for. The first question is one a potential new leader can get away with asking; the second question can’t be asked because… well, you probably won’t get the job.
In every other instance I had the authority to do as I saw fit. At those times, I was able to achieve good things because I didn’t have to worry about anyone thwarting what needed to get done because I didn’t specifically need their cooperation to move forward.
I did work on getting it though, and like almost everywhere else I’d get 90% of the people on my side and get resistance from 10%; I could live with that. After all, no matter how much better things get, you can’t please everyone, and I’ll always go for the majority when things need to get done.
Whether you’re an interim leader or a full time leader, making sure you have the authority to get things done is a major criteria in determining how effective you can be… if you know what you’re doing. lol Getting people on your side… you can never succeed without that anyway.