What do Bill George (Medtronic), Meg Whitman (eBay), Bob Wright (NBC), Lou Gerstner (IBM), Larry Bossidy (Allied Signal), Ted Turner (CNN) and Howard Schultz (Starbucks) have in common?

They were all outstanding leaders who revolutionized their companies by applying outside experiences and viewing through different lenses.  Unshackled by past memories or limited perspectives, their successes were a product of “what can be?” versus “what has happened?”

Does that mean industry experience is overrated?  Not necessarily, but I believe a talented leader with an outside perspective, fresh eyes and an open mind will usually outperform an industry veteran when important change is needed.  Why?

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inc-logoThis article featuring Association of Interim Executives RED Team Member, Richard Lindenmuth, was originally posted on Inc.com.

You’ve heard a lot about the benefits of non-hierarchical organizations, from Morning Star Tomatoes to Zappo’s to the David Allen Company. And you likely know by now that while a flat organization is an appealing concept, some companies have backed away from a flat structure or reported that they can be tricky to get right.

Or maybe they just don’t work at all. That’s the opinion of Richard Lindenmuth, who for 30 years has served as an interim CEO, and works with the Association of Interim Executives. One of his most recent tasks was turning around the troubled company Styrotek. He achieved this goal in large part by un-flattening its previously flat management structure and was able to return Styrotek to profitability in three months — even though it was affected by the California drought.

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Despite the bitter Chicago cold, wind, ice, and snow (sounds appealing doesn’t it!?), there is something energizing about this time of year. January is a fresh start. A blank slate. But also a time to apply lessons learned. It’s easy to jump back into the daily grind without first reflecting on what actually happened the previous year to set a strong foundation for growth in the year ahead.

There were a lot of moving parts that made up our year at the Association of Interim Executives. Thousands of conversations with owners and executives, further development of the Rapid Executive Deployment program, our first interim executive annual conference and more. While those developments were visible signs of progress, there were underlying themes that helped serve as a driving force.

Here are 5 things I learned from owners, entrepreneurs and other brilliant minds:

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I’ve done it for three decades, turning around companies from agriculture (such as Styrotek) to telecommunications giants (such as ITT). As interim leader, I have to parachute in, quickly gain trust and respect from all levels, determine a course of action, and unite everyone to stay that course—all within a limited timeframe.

It takes leadership strategies far beyond business and managerial chops, though certainly those are necessary. You can’t lead effectively without a connection to the people in the company; emotional intelligence is a must. Think of it as ‘strategic empathy’—being sincerely focused on the individual, but always with the big picture top of mind.

Whether you are an interim or a permanent CEO, these 7 tips for using strategic empathy bear relevance for anyone in a leading role.

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2015 has been an amazing year here at the Association of Interim Executives. We parachuted executives into companies worldwide and saw powerful collaboration taking place among the RED Team, an elite group of interims.

As we reflect on the past year, we are more confident than ever that together we can better the world by deploying great leadership. Please enjoy these 5 highlights from 2015.

We wish you a prosperous and peaceful 2016.

Happy Holidays!

-The Association Team

Overview
On March 30, 2015, I began my tenure as an interim manager (Interim Chief Operating Officer) at ChildServ, a social services agency that had recently celebrated its 120th anniversary serving at-risk children and families in the Chicagoland area. While I was new to the role, I had the benefit of not being new to the organization. In fact, I had served on the Board of Trustees of ChildServ for the prior 15 months, resigning only after my Board colleagues had voted to have me take on the difficult task of driving badly needed change from within.

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40 years in public company management, merchant banking and entrepreneurship in multiple industries has left an indelible imprint on me. In the two dozen businesses that I have been involved with as owner, investor, operator or contractor, my belief is that businesses that seek outside help tend to focus on fixes for weaknesses in growth or profitability. Whether it be failing or non-existent cash flow, troubled industries, poor strategic fits, etc. my belief is that the damage was done far before the negative symptoms occurred. Operating and financial weaknesses are the symptoms of the larger illness.

The root cause is always about two factors: people and leadership. A leader creates the culture for his company and that culture is palpable at every level of involvement including the C-suite, middle management, rank and file, customers and suppliers.

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One of my early mentors inspired me to restart, after each painful management lesson, by paraphrasing the following excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1915 speech at the Sorbonne.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if one fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that one’s place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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