7 Do-or-Die Questions to Succeed as the Sudden Leader

You’ve heard the title before: interim leader or acting manager. I dub this position sudden leader because the need often arises suddenly and is quite often temporary.

Sudden interim leaders often don’t know those they will lead or they know them as peers. They are tapped to fill a gap and thrust with no trust.

They carry the burden of interim status with the challenge of inspiring an unsettled organization or team.

Since so much of what is written is for the full-time leader or manager, I pen this post of 7 do-or-die questions to succeed as the sudden interim leader. I welcome your experience and voice in the comments section below.

Secrets to Succeeding as Sudden Interim Leader or Acting Manager Image by:Paurian

  1. Why Do They Need an Interim Leader? You may only get the formal answer. Yet if they are closed lipped about the reasons, be suspicious. You may even want to pass on the opportunity.

  2. Why you? Ask why you, specifically, are being asked to fill the gap. It not only gives you confidence in the early days it is also the foundation for initial discussions with your organization/team. In the worst case, it gives you a chance to decline the offer if they say we can’t find anyone else (and yes this does happen)!
  3. What is your primary purpose?
    Will your boss want you to:

    Be the temporary focal point for well performing organization? or
    Establish peace in troubled waters? or
    Whip the team into performance shape for the new full-time leader? or
    Rebuild the reputation of the organization? or
    Discover core problems and make recommendations? or
    Stay the course while they decide on new plans for the organization?
  4. What does success look like to your boss? This is not a repeat of question #3. When you ask this question, you will get either additional detail or shocking contradiction. Either way, it is a secret to succeeding as the sudden interim leader or acting manager.
  5. What Are the Hot Risks? What crises are brewing? Will you and the organization have the tools, experience, and authority to handle them? To succeed as the interim leader, find the quicksand before you step in it.
  6. May I Speak With the Team Before Deciding on the Offer? It is a reasonable request and often the answer is yes. If you are not from the organization, you will learn critical information. Hearing the views of those you will temporarily lead allows you to decide if you are the right one for the job and if the job offers enough compensation given the challenges.
  7. What is the Picture for Me? If you are from within the organization, what happens to you and your career when the full-time leader is selected? Your future picture impacts your present success and the present success, your future. Better to know than be surprised later.

What other questions would you ask? What else would you recommend for success as the sudden interim leader or acting manager?

With our shared experience we soar to success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, delivers coaching, workshops, keynotes, and DVDs that turn interaction obstacles into interpersonal success for customer service, collaboration, teamwork, and leading change. See this site for workshops outlines and customer results. Fill the gaps of diversity with business wins!

9 Responses to “7 Do-or-Die Questions to Succeed as the Sudden Leader”

  1. Martina says:

    This is a timely article for me Kate. A few of these I wouyld not have thought of myself. And, I can now go into this with better perspective.
    I am being tapped to lead a small segment of my peers into a new project.
    The most troubling is indeed the last question. What happens when this is done?
    Thanks for the insight.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      So glad Martina that this post has timely value for you. As for “what’s next” question — if you leading a project it is not as critical as if you were getting a “temporary” promotion.

      Project leadership is generally a plus for career even within the same company.

      If I can answer any other questions for you, just email me. Glad to help.
      Best wishes and good luck!

  2. Faisal Ahmed says:

    Great post Kate….very informative. Having been in this position, here is another consideration. It’s not necessarily a question just for the boss — How have past interim (or sudden) leaders fared within the organization in similar roles? This may require speaking with a few folks, including HR, but it’s typically a good indication of planning by management. Too many instances of interim managers may indicate a lack of proper employee development or foresight.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Faisal! What a great addition to this list. Forethought can prevent regret. I am grateful for your insight shared here with everyone who visits.

      Best wishes and come back often.


  3. Jim Morgan says:

    An excellent set, Kate. By coincidence, I have been prepping for a class on “The Science of Team Leadership” that talks about your #6. “Culture fit,” for lack of a better term, between the larger organization, the team leader and the team members is a hot topic these days for a good reason: It is more important than technical skills in determining whether a new hire succeeds. In turn, the best way to determine that fit is “high-involvement hiring” in which anyone who will spend a lot of time with the new hire has a significant role in the hiring process. As someone who has taken over teams on short notice, I suggest your readers *insist* on #6. If possible, interview with each individual team member in addition to the group interview. Otherwise you are taking a big gamble on success, and thus with your career.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Agreed Jim. #6 is a true do-or-die item and so often overlooked — with painful results. Many thanks for your insights on culture fit. It makes a significant difference.

      Good luck with your new class.

  4. Great article again Kate.

    I think No. 3 is the trickiest of all. Often the boss either:

    a) Won’t know the real purpose of the job, or
    b) Say one thing but subconsciously mean another. (eg saying – your role is to supervise, where as what they may really want is someone to make their own life easier).

    Beware of what people tell you. They may not know what they want, or say what they mean.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Steven. I agree that often people don’t know what they want or how best to describe it. Asking more than one question on it can sometimes unearth the truth.
      Truly grateful for your add on this post!

  5. Ed Wach says:

    Very good points, even for those of us who are searching for a new position.

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