What Has and Hasn’t Changed for Interim Leaders

Executives leave hospitals for lots of reasons. Some of them retire gracefully, while others quietly agree to an early retirement. Others, still, may go out in a blaze of glory (figuratively speaking, of course). No matter the reason, there’s often a months-long gap between the former executive’s exit and the new executive’s entrance.

Increasingly, hospitals of all sizes are turning to interim leaders, who can be placed in a few days to a few weeks, to help close this gap. While not a requirement for every vacant role, an interim can help hospitals mitigate exposure due to the lack of leadership all while affecting positive change for the benefit of the organization, the staff and the community.

Interim leaders share a common set of characteristics, says Mike Lieb, vice president for interim placement services for HealthTechS3 and a former interim leader himself. They have the technical skillset and knowledge, of course. But at their core, interim leaders are fixers, ready to parachute in, size up the situation quickly, and carefully do what is exactly right based on the that needs assessment. Their goal: In the three to six months (or more) that they’re in charge, they aim to leave the place better than they found it.

According to Lieb, there are eight critical strategies for interim success:

  1. Be visible.
  2. Be transparent.
  3. Be hands-on.
  4. Listen!
  5. Follow through.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  7. Prioritize culture.
  8. Be earnest, but calm.

As hospitals have weathered—and continue to weather—the far-reaching effects of the pandemic, this list of strategies hasn’t changed. What has changed, says Lieb? The importance and care interim leaders need to place on certain strategies. Like listening.

“It’s empathy that’s needed right now more than anything else,” he says. “There’s more sensitivity out there, staff are totally burned out. The difference will be the leader who makes sure that they take the time to stop and listen to everyone’s perspective.”

Being visible and communicating well are other strategies that require a double-down approach. “I always say, none of what we do as healthcare executives is rocket science,” he says. “It’s empathy and communication and getting people on board with what needs to be done. The important question is, ‘Does the interim have the ability to gain the trust of the people they’re serving?’ To me, it’s more a reflection of emotional intelligence than anything else.”

In other words, the hard skills are a given; it’s the soft skills that will spell success for interim leaders today.

“We thought this pandemic was almost over and now it seems like we have a lot longer to go,” he says. “People are tired, they’re stressed, and they’re still scared. If you’re an interim today, part of your job will be to instill hope, not a false hope, but a confidence that says, ‘OK, we can do this together.”

Want more insights on Lieb’s list of eight interim strategies for success? Tune into his webinar, Eight Practical Approaches for Interim Leaders, on Friday, Aug. 13 at noon CST for a deeper dive into each of the eight approaches and which of them should rise to the top of an interim priority list today. Reserve your spot today.