An Interim’s Choices – Retreat? Hold the line? Forge ahead?

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Military strategists spend significant energy and time contemplating the relative value of retreating, holding the battle line, or exploding with unexpected force to secure that next foothold. I’ve been thinking lately about how someone in an interim role (me, in this case) can apply this analogy to contemplate possible paths for most effectively leading an organization, for a time-limited period, at a specific moment in the organization’s life cycle.

I hadn’t given it much thought until one of my “knowledge transfer” conversations with our outgoing Executive Director, Colleen Kelly. Colleen asked if I planned on approaching my interim role in terms of “maintaining” (i.e., holding the line). In typical circumstances, it’s not my nature to “maintain”. And yet, it’s possible that would be the best for the organization.

How then does an interim leader decide how best to lead? In the last couple of months, I’ve trusted my knowledge of where we’ve been, where we are today, and where we’re heading. I’ve relied on my instincts and I had many revealing conversations with key employees, board members, and knowledge philanthropists. Their feelings have been a valuable guide to whether to pull back, maintain or push on.

Though my personal energy favours moving decisively forward, I’ve recognized we can’t forge ahead into new territory in all areas of our work. The transition we are going through demands a deliberately balanced approach. In some cases I’ve recommended retreating, or pressing “pause” until we have a better sense of where we’ll land in a few months. In other areas, we’re maintaining our current course. In yet others, we’re pushing full steam ahead to make some significant strides in 2013 despite the ambiguity that remains at play.

How has your organization navigated an interim leadership role? Do you think my decision-making so far would hold up to the scrutiny of the military strategist?!

About the Author

After working in London and completing her MBA at INSEAD in France and Singapore, Maria Turnbull joined Vantage Point’s team in 2006. Rooted in the not-for-profit sector through numerous leadership roles with the British and Canadian Red Cross Societies, OXFAM and Amnesty International, Maria loves...

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