One of my favorite parts of senior leadership roles is that you periodically get to deep dive on something that you typically don’t focus on too closely. At Stripe, I got to serve as the interim leader of the Payments Infrastructure organization for a few months, which gave me the chance to support a couple hundred additional folks working in an adjacent area of the company, while also continuing to support the Foundation organization I worked with throughout my time there. I learned a disproportionate amount in that window, almost as if I’d started a new job, but without needing to build a whole new set of relationships.
More recently at Calm, our data science team has reported through me since I joined in 2020, but we always had a data science leader who was directly supporting the team and refining our approach to data science. Last year our data science leader stepped down after a long run at the company, which gave both me and another Calm engineering leader the opportunity to get more deeply connected with the team while we hired the data science leader for the next phase of our growth.
Interim assignments to support an area while its long-term leader is being hired are the manager’s version of an individual contributor “doing a rotation” onto a different team for three to six months to support an important project.
Whereas individual contributors often get to temporarily switch teams, I’ve never seen it work that way for managers. Instead managers end up managing two teams because they wouldn’t be hiring for the role if leadership believed there was internal capacity to take it on permanently.
In your three to six months of the interim assignment,
you’ll probably have a small, but likely meaningful, impact on the team you support, but the context you take away from the experience
will significantly increase your impact once you return to focusing on your ongoing duties.
While I’ve never seen a manager directly rewarded for taking on this sort of endeavor, they’re a valuable leadership experience, and I’ve often seen them indirectly lead to larger roles by proving out your, and your team’s, readiness. When you’re leading a well-run organization, you’ll often find calm pockets of time where you’re a bit bored but also know that it’s only calm until the next thing goes awry; interim assignments are a great way to take advantage of those pockets without compromising your workload if things get busy in a quarter or two.
The second most valuable thing about interim assignments is that you don’t have to take them. If your current area, or your personal life, is going through a bit of chaos, then don’t take one on! If things are feeling a bit too easy, then let your manager know you’re interested and available. Whereas growing your permanent scope in a larger organization can be a tricky process with many stakeholders, interim leadership is usually quite straightforward to achieve: folks compete much harder for ownership than they do for work.