Question: Advice for a lame duck executive

I am the regional CFO for a large diversified corporation. I was expecting to move on to a new position, within the same parent organization (but a different line of business) a couple of months back.

Unfortunately, my "new position" was put on hold because my current business is having difficulty finding a successor. (We had someone join and quit during transition.)

Now, I am in the unfortunate position where my colleagues think I am out. Yet work needs to get done, and I have to make important decisions requiring their compliance, till that day actually comes.

Do you have some advice on how I can continue to be effective?

7 Expert Insights

Couple questions and suggestions for your consideration: Were you part of the succession planning for your role? (If not, you have a great opportunity (and I'd go as far to say - a responsibility) to engage in identifying and preparing potential successor(s).  (If you moving forward is dependent on your successor - that is key must for you to focus on.)

The key to colleagues not perceiving you as a lame duck is in your behavior (and results) - and through meaningful relationships with them. Suggest you rebase with each to express your commitment to the org and its outcomes, and your support of each of them - which then needs to be demonstrated in your behavior/actions. (ie, what's most important for them and how can you help/support them with that - ideally that's mutual and they will do the same for you if they believe you are authentic and you are indeed getting things done.)

Lastly - be clear on your personal goal here -- what it is you want - and why? - then identify the gap and make an action plan to get you there/move you forward.  Alternatively - consider if is there opportunity to reinvent this in your current role/org - or is it sincerely about growth and challenge for you in a new org and role? But in order for you to be supported by others in your org - you must demonstrate your value and commitment. (Meaning - do they experience and perceive you as effective - to know - takes courage to ask, sincerely listen - then take action accordingly.) Best wishes in your reflection, decisions and journey!

While your transfer time might be on hold, your work responsibilities as you note are not.

It's important to ensure that everyone understands the current situation and your current business expectations. While you may be a "lame duck," you are only ineffective if you act that way...letting others assume that you have one foot out the door. You aren't gone until you are into your new position, but people will treat you as gone if you allow it. We laugh about lame ducks but most get that name because they act just that...lame and gone mentally even though they are physically present.

You must be clear to your organization and your colleagues that there are current goals and objectives to be met, and you expect the team to move forward regardless of how long you will be leading the team. The strong outcomes you expect them to continue to achieve will be the basis for how the next leader views the team as he or she comes in.

You may need to be very plain in saying that until you are physically gone, you will continue to be accountable for x and y and z decisions and you will continue to lead the group to strong results. You will appreciate everyone's walk and talk being supportive of not only the organization's goals and success but of you as the leader accountable for the team's results. This is a message that you should deliver to the group, to direct reports and to colleagues who are partners in the organization's success.

You might also consider having one-on-one discussions with your best-connected advocates, encouraging them to reinforce the importance of everyone pulling together behind the current leader (you) so that the team/group/region retains a strong position. This secondary support for your expectations, delivered by those whose message will be heard, can shore-up any outliers who may not hear the message clearly from you.

Good luck as you step back into your strong leadership position!

Not uncommon for people to not be able to "rewind."

I like what Sarah advised and endorse it. I'll take a different tact. Before you react to what i'm about to say, as it may seem too probing, please take it in the spirit in which it's given which is to forward and strengths your skills as a leader.  

This looks like a big opportunity for you to find out:
a) what's missing in your relationship with the folks you lead that they are saying "Hey, glad we have you here for a bit longer!"  This might be the place to start the conversation to rebuild your relationship.

b) what skills you need to rebuild trust and followership.

Developing these skills now will benefit you Now and  in whatever role you take on next, and whenever you take it on.

I'd also recommend that you shift your mindset from "i'm leaving" and the behavior that comes with that, to "I'm staying". you'll be more effective if you do not have one foot out the door.

First of all it is important that your role as CFO is one of Leadership and as I understand it until someone is found to fill that role you are still the Leader. So be certain that your colleagues understand that you continue to hold that position for the betterment of the company until a qualified replacement is found.

I believe you are only a lame duck if you allow the others to view it that way, your first concern is the company, the new position will come later.

I concur with many of the comments made by my 'mentors guild' associates.  And the question I have for you to ponder is who has assigned to you the title of "lame duck"?  I suggest that perhaps it is you who see yourself as such as I doubt the your current reports consider their boss as such thus giving them permission to stop listening, doing or following your leadership.  They still report to you and their performance is going to be judged and evaluated by you.  There's nothing 'lame' about that.  As has been suggested, your current position is the one that needs and should receive your full focus.  Obviously, you have been effective or you would not have been offered the new position.  

I can only encourage you to perform your current position as an opportunity to show your management that they, indeed, have made the right decision in promoting you to a new opportunity.

Don't "be" a lame duck leader - "be" a proactive, high energy leader you have been all along. Make sure everyone knows that you are still in the position, there you still work there, that there are things to be done, and that you will be on board with them until you move to another job, if in fact that really happens.  

Furthermore, don't talk about the next job at all. In reality, as it now stands, you may be in your current position for some time, who knows. So, keep the same quest alive with which you started your current position, keep working as if this is your job for the next 20 years. If someone brings it up, smile and nicely say something along the lines that you have no new news and that "we", meaning you and the person to whom you are conversing, are on this job together and here is what we need to do.  

You have received meaningful and thought provoking questions to ask yourself from my “mentors guild” colleagues.   As a coach, I am in alignment with all of these questions.  I also find myself agreeing with David.  You are still an important part of the “game”.  It is imperative for you to get back in there (both mentally emotionally).  It is time to reengage yourself as well as those who work for and with you.  This situation is indeed a setback, and I am sure a disappointment for you.  The question now is, "How will you be resilient and turn the situation around in your favor to learn, grow and become an even better leader and person from it?”