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’s been a challenge or two along the way.

Korean War - HD-SN-99-03031
Harry Truman via Compfight

For 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 told them not to help me in any way but to do their jobs; that was unpleasant.

At another location, 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. When I was gone for a long period over the holidays, they found a way to help get me dismissed from the gig, even though the contract had been signed and I thought all was well. You can’t please everybody.

What you learn as an independent consultant is that every situation and people are different. Some of the tactics and processes you’ve developed and followed over your years 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. It’s a question I ask before I think about going anywhere.

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 before. Luckily, by the time I left, I’d gotten more people to work with me, and we hit a milestone that had never been hit before; I left on a high note.

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 the only authority he had was bringing me in.

In both of those examples, I asked my question but wasn’t told everything, and there was nothing I could prepare for. I got both gigs, and though both ended much sooner than I wanted them to; that means I did something right… maybe…

In every other instance where I was an interim leader, 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 approval to move forward. Consulting works better when consultants actually get to do what they’re paid to do.

Still, I worked on getting cooperation instead of being a dictator, and like almost everywhere else I got about 90% of the people on my side; I could live with that. No matter how much better things get, you can’t please everyone. I’ll always go for the majority when things need to get done, which helps everyone become successful. Change is scary for some people; you have to prove it works before they’ll accept it.

Whether you’re an interim leader or a permanent 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… that’s a crapshoot. You can never succeed without getting a majority of people on your side, but you have to try anyway. At least with some authority you’ll have the upper hand.

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