Debunking 7 Common Myths About Interim Executives

July 25, 2023

The role of interim executives in business is becoming increasingly prominent. Catalyzed by an evolving corporate world that values agility, adaptability, and short-term specialized expertise, many organizations are discovering the power of interim leaders.

However, as with many relatively new paradigms, several misconceptions paint a skewed picture of interim executives. Unfortunately, many of these myths have kept businesses from seeking the help they need during transition and growth. The fact is that many companies can benefit from the expertise and experience of interim executives in their organizations. Dispelling these myths is critical to ensure leaders understand the value of interim executives and why more organizations are taking advantage of their services.

Myth #1: Interim Executives Are All Retirees

Many assume interim executives are all retirees, suggesting they are older individuals seeking part-time or less demanding work after retiring from a full-time career. This myth likely arises because some choose such roles to continue contributing their skills and experience in defined, short-term engagements.

However, interim executives represent a diverse age group, including mid-career professionals and young executives. The average age of an interim executive is 52 years old, which means there are plenty of executives, both older and younger, working as independent talent. Some executives opt for temporary roles for more flexibility, allowing them to gain experience in different industries or balance other commitments. Interim roles can be highly demanding and require a diverse skill set, making them attractive to executives at all career stages who seek challenging opportunities.

Myth #2: Interim Executives Can’t Secure Permanent Jobs

The second myth posits that interim executives can’t secure permanent roles and settle for temporary assignments. Again, this idea stems from the perception that independent engagements are less desirable or prestigious than permanent roles.

In reality, many interim executives willingly choose such roles due to the unique advantages they provide. Research on interim management found that less than 9% planned on finding a permanent position, and almost 60% wanted to continue their career as interim talent for the foreseeable future. Interim executives choose their roles because of the variety of work, opportunities to drive significant change, and exposure to diverse industries and business models. Plus, they often require specialized skill sets that are highly valued in the job market, making these roles not merely fallback options but targeted career choices with possibly greater earning potential than permanent roles.

Myth #3: Interim Executives Don’t Want to Work Hard

This myth suggests that interim executives choose temporary roles to evade the demands and pressures associated with permanent executive positions. This misconception often arises from the temporary nature of interim roles, which causes some to believe it signals an executive’s lack of dedication.

Contrary to this myth, interim executives often work in highly demanding circumstances. They are typically brought in to navigate change or transition, which requires a strong work ethic, exceptional leadership abilities, and the capacity to make difficult decisions. Plus, the success of an interim executive depends on their ability to deliver results quickly in a limited timeframe, often necessitating a high degree of dedication and hard work.

Myth #4: Interim Executives Lack Commitment to the Company

Given the temporary nature of their tenure, it can be easy to assume interim executives lack a commitment to the company. This stems from a presumption that long-term commitment and a sense of ownership can only come from permanent roles.

However, interim executives can—and often do—demonstrate a high level of commitment and dedication to the companies they serve. Their success relies on rapidly integrating into a company and delivering measurable outcomes—especially when that success hinges on regularly sourcing new engagements through on-demand talent providers like Business Talent Group. This necessitates a deep understanding of the company’s culture, goals, and challenges, which can only be achieved through commitment and engagement.

Myth #5: They Only Manage Crisis Situations

Some companies assume interim executives are only beneficial for managing crises. This myth arises from some high-profile cases where interim executives were indeed hired to navigate companies through challenging situations, such as averting an impending bankruptcy.

Although interim executives may often be brought in during a crisis due to their specialized skills and experience, their roles are not limited to this scenario. They handle a variety of situations beyond crisis management. Some of these situations include:

  • Strategic initiatives. These professionals frequently lead the charge on key initiatives, such as digital transformation projects, business expansion into new markets, or the launch of a new product line. These tasks require specialized skills and extensive experience. 
  • Leadership transition. Interim executives help during leadership transitions beyond crisis situations. When an executive departs suddenly, an interim executive can step in to ensure continuity and stability until a permanent replacement is found.
  • Skills gap. An interim executive with the required expertise can fill the void if an organization identifies a temporary skills gap. For example, a business wanting to improve its supply chain efficiency might engage an interim executive with deep knowledge in this area.
  • Business transformation. Organizations often tap interim executives to lead business transformation efforts. This could include organizational restructuring, mergers, acquisitions, or significant cultural shifts. These situations are not necessarily crises but strategic efforts to improve or change the business.
  • Growth or expansion. Companies in the process of rapid growth or expansion often benefit from the expertise of interim executives. They provide the necessary leadership and experience to manage such a challenging and exciting phase, setting the groundwork for sustainable success.
  • New role trial. Adding a new permanent executive position is a significant commitment. Organizations often choose to start with an interim executive to test out the position and its compatibility with their culture and goals first. Beyond roles, they also help companies test out organizational structures, skill sets, and leadership styles to see if they are a good fit.

While interim executives are well-suited for crisis management, they are not limited to it. They offer versatility and a wealth of experience instrumental in various business scenarios.

Myth #6: Interim Executives are Less Qualified Than Permanent Ones

This myth suggests that these independent consultants are less qualified than their permanent counterparts, perhaps arising from the perception that they’re a “stop-gap” solution.

Most interim executives have honed many of the critical skill sets needed at specific moments in time for organizations, such as functional build-outs, post-merger integrations, crisis management, situations requiring specific functional skills, and more. They are usually highly experienced professionals with various skills and expertise. They often possess a breadth of industry knowledge and leadership experience, allowing them to adapt quickly to new environments and effectively lead through change.

In short, they are not any less qualified than traditional permanent executives—on the contrary, they are likely even more qualified to hold the role due to their wealth of experience, ability to hit the ground running, and skills that are aligned with the company’s needs at that exact moment in time.

Myth #7: Interim Executives Are Only For C-Suite Roles

Understandably, some assume interim executives are only hired for C-suite interim executive positions because this gains the most publicity. From REI to Twitter, some CEOs and other executives secured their positions by starting out interim. It gives the impression that interim executives are limited to this echelon of the corporate hierarchy.

Contrary to this belief, interim executives are not confined to C-Suite roles. While it’s true that many serve in top-level positions, interim roles can exist at various levels of management, depending on the company’s pressing needs. For example, these professionals can fill roles like:

  • Operations Director. This role manages the entire operations of a business unit, ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in delivering goods and services.
  • PMO Leader. Companies undergoing significant projects, such as product launches or IT system overhauls, may benefit from an interim PMO leader.
  • Finance Heads. If an organization is undergoing financial restructuring or in a period of economic instability, an interim finance executive—such as a Head of FP&A or Controller—brings valuable experience and stability.
  • Human Resources Director. Interim HR executives are crucial in times of significant organizational change. They can help manage restructurings, mergers, large-scale recruitment initiatives, or key HR responsibilities like compensation and benefits.
  • Marketing Director. Companies engage interims to lead brand refreshes and product launches or strategize and implement new marketing campaigns.
  • IT Director. Interim IT executives can oversee digital transformation efforts, implement new technology systems, or manage cybersecurity incidents.

The versatility of interim executive models means professionals can fill virtually any leadership role temporarily. Their presence is especially valuable in times of transformation or when the organization needs specific expertise not currently available.

Dispelling Interim Executive Myths

Interim executives have become an increasingly important resource for organizations in today’s dynamic business landscape. As we explored, the interim space has evolved rapidly in recent history, and many of the myths surrounding interim executives stem from misconceptions, misunderstandings, and outdated notions. Interim executives aren’t just retirees or individuals who can’t secure permanent jobs. They aren’t less committed or qualified than their permanent counterparts. Nor are they confined to handling crises or exclusively to C-suite roles.

Interim executives offer specialized skills, broad experience, and adaptability that companies leverage across all levels of an organization. They serve various functions and industries, from leading strategic initiatives and driving business growth to managing transitions and filling sudden vacancies. Most importantly, they are driven by a passion for bridging crucial gaps and leveraging skills where they are most needed. This makes them a vital asset for businesses seeking short-term leadership or specialized expertise.

As the business world evolves and organizations grapple with unforeseen challenges and opportunities, the demand for these flexible, highly skilled professionals only increases. Debunking common myths and recognizing interim executives’ true value and potential allows organizations in various sectors to utilize the benefits they offer for sustained and increased success while in transition.

If your organization is facing a transitional period, needs to drive a strategic project, or requires specialized leadership temporarily, consider the benefits an interim executive provides.

Don’t let misconceptions deter you from leveraging this powerful resource. Instead, explore the potential of engaging an interim executive for your organization. Post your project to Business Talent Group today. The right talent could be the key to not just survive but thrive through your business’s next challenge or opportunity.

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