Independent Executives: Myths, Misconceptions, and Realities – Part 1

executive change

Independent executives are often seen as paratroopers: an elite group of executives who parachute into companies (which are often under fire) and act as the heroes who help save the company.

Independent executives are also often the bridge during transitions. They step into a company (truth be told, most of the time without a parachute) during times of trouble, high growth, innovation, or instability.

In reality, independent executives come in all shapes and sizes and are deployed for a variety of reasons:

  • To fill a gap position until you have hired a permanent executive
  • To develop new strategies for growth
  • To mitigate risks, such as during mergers and acquisitions
  • To carry out organizational change
  • To manage complex projects
  • To run a subsidiary in a new state or country

Here are some of the most common myths and misconceptions we hear about independent executives.

Independent Executives Are Either Retired or in Transition, Right?”

It is not uncommon for a retired executive to say, “I’d like to do some independent management work. My spouse has decided I’m not welcome around the house full-time just yet.”

The misconception, however, comes from the common perception of a “retired executive” as one who’s had a thirty- to forty-year career at IBM. In most cases, these executives are either leaving corporate life or completing some type of exit at earlier and earlier stages in their careers. When Cerius started, the average age of executives in our network was late fifties. In the last few years, we have seen that age trending down—closer to early fifties. Executives today are looking for more freedom and flexibility and looking for alternative career choices long before the traditional retirement age.

Executives are also more carefully selecting their next roles and purposefully staying in transition longer than in previous decades. At the same time, companies are wading into the waters more carefully when hiring their next full-time executive.

“I’m Concerned an Executive Will Come in and Start Trying to Change Things.”

If you don’t want anything to change, you probably should take the option of engaging an independent executive off the table. There is nothing more frustrating for an independent executive than to be brought into a company by an owner or CEO only to be told, “Wait a few months until you know everything about the company before suggesting changes.”

“If you don’t want anything to change, you probably should take the option of engaging an independent executive off the table.”

Yes, an independent executive needs to spend time learning the nuances of the company, its employees, and the culture. But typically, the right independent executive can absorb those baselines in a matter of days, not months. Recommendations for change will always seem radical at first, primarily because the company gets caught up in how to get from A to Z—focused on the inability to see how they get from where they are now to where the recommendation will take them.

To build comfort with new ideas, insights, strategies, and tactics, talk through the plan with an independent executive to understand how the transition will be accomplished in stages. Stay focused on why changes are being recommended initially; don’t get caught up in how until the end state is agreed upon. And don’t worry; nothing will be changed without full approval and support from top leadership.

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