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We Are All Interim Leaders: Embrace It!

Dorothy SisnerosOver the years, I have heard many people say, “We are passionate about wanting to make this change, but it’s not the right time because we have interim leadership.  We need to wait for our permanent CEO…our permanent CNO…” and the like.

While I certainly understand how people want to make sure they have leaders who will see initiatives through, it strikes me as an illusion that there is such a thing as a “permanent leader” coming.

Having been engaged in healthcare for more than 30 years, I have seen “permanent leaders” come and go, just as I have seen “interim leaders” stay for years.  The tenure for senior level leaders, especially the CEO, is less than 3.5 years and when the CEO leaves involuntarily, the rest of the senior team leaves within 9-10 months.  This leaves the organization appointing a new set of interim leaders and the search for a new permanent leader starts again – what I call churn.

I believe we are ALL interim leaders and there is no such thing as a permanent leader.  And I believe further that feeling transitory does not have to mean we have to be place-holders.  Instead, I believe the realization that we are all transitory could motivate us to make our mark NOW when we have the chance.

A few years ago, I worked with one organization where a leader designated as “interim” decided to move ahead with the Language of Caring® initiative, knowing full well that she might not be around to see it through.  She put together a strong Steering Team.  She poured energy into building commitment throughout the leadership team and Board, and she created and followed a rapid timeline, because she wanted to be there to see excitement, commitment, follow-through and improvement.  The Language of Caring took hold there.  Had that leader been let go, unless the new CEO was adamantly opposed to improving the patient experience, the strategy would have remained strong because of its strong foundation and the engagement of throngs of people.  As it turned out, this “interim” CEO ended up being appointed “permanent” because she had accomplished so much and earned so much respect for being a mover and shaker for positive change and investing in the staff, physicians and middle managers.

Another situation comes to mind in which a “permanent” CEO spearheaded the Language of Caring initiative.  Several months after the program launch, the CEO moved to another organization.  Thankfully, other leaders, especially the Director of Education, took the steering wheel and kept the strategy going according to plan.  It could have fallen apart, but it didn’t.  And four years later, Brenda is still leading the way.

My point is that whether we are called “interim” or “permanent,” we are all called to action to hold ourselves and others accountable, to create the vision and set the stage and create hope for those who need a passionate leader.  And we can spearhead improvement by focusing on what we can do NOW, since time is fleeting and opportunities fall away if we don’t seize them.  My cancer journey taught me that.

In the words of Rita Coolidge, “Too often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late.”

I welcome your comments below.

Categories: Change and Transformation, Leadership, Reinforcement and Sustainability

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3 Comments

  1. This is very well said. The issue, in my experience, is what is accomplished and is it what was needed or what you were brought in to do? And what you are called is not what is critical, and what you create for your organization is.

  2. The Language of Caring has been our organizational “constant” as we continue to transform, hire new employees/leaders, and change healthcare delivery processes. Thank you LOC, for providing a meaningful, flexible, and easy-to-facilitate curriculum of key caring communication skills!

  3. Craig Laser says:

    Thanks for sharing an insightful perspective. The value of leadership and how you show up and what you bring is less about “permanent” or “interim” and more about doing what a leader does – influence and create change. So often we are easily drawn into placing labels on people and things that then regulate not only our expectations but also our perspective. I think we all have to consider ourselves leaders who are there to do a job and make a difference. That has no label.

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