Recently, an interim director of a nonprofit organization asked me if I had any leadership tips for his term as an "interim leader." I told him the most important thing is to completely forget the "interim" part, and focus on just being the leader. Because what often happens with interim heads is that they don't lead. The title "interim" assumes that they are really just a placeholder and need to simply stay the course, and they certainly shouldn't try anything new or bold. But that is exactly the wrong strategy, and here is why:
We are doing work with Aristotle's cardinal virtues and how those relate to both ethical and effective leadership. The one that most came to mind (although all four apply) is fortitude, or courage. A good leader must be courageous, and simply staying the course as an interim director is not courageous. Effective leaders need to be bold. In our rapidly changing world, organizations need to innovate and keep up. Simply staying the course means that you will likely fall behind.
An interim leader, just like any leader, also should have the second virtue of prudence. Prudence involves gathering evidence, consulting with others, being objective and reflective before deciding on courses of action. It is particularly important for interim leaders to consult with knowledgeable managers and others - involving them in the decision making process (that leads to greater acceptance of the decisions).
Temperance is another cardinal virtue and it involves controlling one's emotions and "appetites." It is lack of temperance that gets many leaders into trouble. Temperance leads to humility - a quality found in the very best leaders - and temperance helps leaders admit when they've made mistakes and work to correct them.
Finally, justice is the last of the four cardinal virtues and it involves being fair in leading and in dealing with others. Leaders should not only treat everyone fairly, but they should not put their own gains over those of others.
These cardinal virtues - fortitude, prudence, temperance, and justice - are thousands of years old, but they still serve leaders well, even leaders who are only temporarily occupying a leadership role. They represent the fundamental qualities of outstanding leaders, and are a guideline for success.
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