vacancy signHave you noticed that the current business climate has produced several “interim CEO” and even “interim Head Coach” positions? I’ve often wondered if that sends confusing signals about the organization’s direction or focus – particularly when their tenure drags on. And do their underlings view the interim role as a big “vacancy” sign? Does an interim leadership role point to the CEO or the Board’s inability to create a coherent succession plan or a strong bench of talented, well-rounded leaders?

If you’ve ever had trouble finding the right person for that leadership role, perhaps because there wasn’t one particular person with all the necessary capabilities, experiences, and interests, you can relate.

Unfortunately, many leaders are one dimensional – great skills in some departments but not others. Many incredibly successful and well-trained GE executives, for example, have less-than-stellar roles as CEOs of other firms. They may bring a renewed sense of management professionalism or fantastic cost-cutting expertise – crucial at the beginning of their tenure but often not for the duration they serve.

With the complexity of organizations today, and the required sensitivity to governance, performance, and transparency, perhaps it’s time to rethink the logic of the superhero leader and larger than life CEOs. Perhaps it’s time to build a range of skills in the C- and V-suite, each impactful in different points in the initiative or the organization’s growth continuum.

How? Here are three options to consider:

  1. Consider spreading the responsibilities across several people. Allow the most qualified person — rather than the most senior person — to step up to the leadership task. This gives all competent people the chance to demonstrate their leadership prowess.
  2. Consider rotational leadership assignments within the firm. The CFO positions often have been such roles; why not that strategic initiative role or new products launch, customer executive sponsor, or a new market entry opportunity?
  3. Bring in a competent outsider to lead the assignment and recommend the next quarterback. Outsiders often bring a fresh perspective, are uninhibited by the traditional political posturing, and the good ones build and nurture great relationships to uncover the true passion and strength of each leader involved.

To lay the groundwork for this type of organizational flattening, create a relationship-centric climate in which people develop the courage to take on new assignments and fail without fear of retribution. Leaders and managers alike must be thought of as resources rather than authorities. It’s a fundamental difference between a trust and track culture vs. a command and control one.

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