Leaders have different management/ leadership styles and expectations, but what works for some might not work for others. An executive’s chances for success depend on multiple factors, including their personality, past experiences, why they’re being brought in, and the type of project they’re working on.
Because of the temporary and dynamic nature of their work, independent executives need to be flexible in their leadership style. They need to switch styles to manage client expectations as well as get the job done. This may require varying styles within the same company, depending on the culture, individual personalities, and what needs to be accomplished.
Leaving Your Expertise Behind and out of your leadership style
One of our favorite sayings is, “I worked myself out of a job.” This should be your top goal. Whether you are brought in to bridge a gap, put processes in place, or lend your expertise to a situation, much of what you do and how you do it should be left behind when you leave. The organization should have all the information they need to continue on as though you were still there. It is no different than how you would advise an entrepreneur starting a business. Start with your exit and work backward. From the first meeting with the client, be thinking about how you will accomplish what is needed and how you will exit while making what you did stick with the team left in place.
Your communication, your toolkit, and your interactions should work in unison to support this goal. If you are providing knowledge, put it in writing and explain as much of the reasoning behind it as possible. Work one-on-one with individuals you know have the aptitude to thrive in the organization, or help the client hire someone from the outside who can do the job. Sometimes the organization just needs structure or processes in order to improve on their own when things start to go wrong. Walk them through the process; have them do as much of it on their own as they can, and then step back and support.
Engagements typically go through a pattern of time involvement with interim executives. At the beginning, most of your time will be spent gathering information and planning. During the execution phase, the executive’s involvement will even out, and finally slow down as the engagement reaches completion. Using a five-days-a-week interim engagement as an example: The executive walks into a turnaround situation and works five-plus days per week at the start. The executive spends most of his or her time answering questions, assessing, planning, and putting out fires. As planning turns into execution and training begins, a point will come when the executive can reduce time on-site to three days per week. This gives the internal team a couple of days without the executive to rely on. As the team starts to thrive and operate as the plan intended, the executive is there perhaps only one day a week to focus in on remaining open items. Progress will not stop once the executive leaves; the team is equipped for the current stage of growth and the path that has been laid out for them.
When the Engagement Starts to Veer from the SOW
Since everything was documented to begin with and you are tracking your progress through updates and reporting, any significant variance should become clear quickly. If you are adding more to the “added activities” list than you are updating on the progress, or if most SOW items are in the yellow or red zone due to some internal issues, decision makers, available resources, etc., those are red flags.
Clients are thrilled to not only have someone of your expertise working with them, but also someone to talk to and confide in. The more you work with clients, the more they will realize you can help in areas other than those outlined in the original Statement of Work. You may be happy to help in any way you can and keep saying, “Sure, I can do that for you.” There is nothing wrong with this impulse, other than that many times, the client may expect these additional items to also be included within the original budget or timelines, and that can easily distract you from focusing on the original deliverables. As long as it is all in writing and you are discussing it with the client, you will be able to keep up with adjusting the client’s expectations. You have the choice of either expanding the SOW or putting off the additional items until the original scope of work is completed. Part of the role you will end up playing is an advisor.
Measuring, Tracking, and Results—The Impact
Quite a bit can be accomplished during an engagement. Measuring and tracking the results and impact of your efforts is important and very little says it better than numbers. Keeping track of what you achieved, both qualitatively and quantitatively, can help keep everything in perspective.
Clients can be your best advocates in the marketplace with referrals and repeat business. Take the time to communicate, stay on the same page, and do the right thing for your clients. It can either come back to help you in dividends or haunt you.
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