Two Paths to Cover an Unexpected Leadership Vacancy

Even with a staff of dependable leaders, unexpected vacancies are sure to occur sooner or later. Sometimes individuals are pulled away for personal or family issues with the intention to return and sometimes they leave for new positions which require you to find a permanent replacement. In either case, interim coverage will be necessary to keep the wheels moving.

Typically, there are two paths to temporarily fill an open leadership position: look to another leader or leaders to pick up responsibilities or bring on an interim executive. Either path will get you through the interruption, but when deciding, consider the pros and cons of each.

There are a few ways to do this. One, select one same-level individual to pick up the responsibilities of the absent leader. Two, divvy the responsibilities among several same-level leaders. Or, three, pull from the bench and temporarily promote a subordinate.





  • The most obvious appeal of opting for internal coverage is the cost savings. Existing employees are already being paid, so save any incentive pay offered for the additional responsibility, payroll expenses don’t increase.
  • Looking to existing staff is also fast. Someone can be chosen and can assume the additional tasks quickly with minimal training or learning curve. Employees already know the lay of the land and will not have to spend time learning who does what, where things are, or how to navigate office politics.
  • Placing a leader who direct reports are familiar with provides an easy transition.


  • When employees take on double duty, both positions suffer. Leaders will be less available to their subordinates, which can spread the decline in work quality well beyond the leadership roles.
  • Work beyond the basic keep-the-ship-afloat tasks goes by the wayside, slowing the progress of your organization. Special projects, strategic initiatives, and growth will be stifled until the leader returns or is permanently replaced.
  • Employees, especially those in leadership positions, are not interchangeable, so it is realistic to expect replacements to lack skills for specific or specialized duties. For example, does your COO have enough financial experience to fully take on the CFO role?
  • The hidden costs associated with the previous cons probably outweigh any cost savings gained by not hiring and interim leader.





  • An experienced interim leader is uniquely skilled for specific roles and will hit the ground running. A seasoned professional provides stability while managing to your strategic plan with fresh eyes. Not only will the wheels keep turning, but the initiatives in progress will continue without missing a beat.
  • An external placement has a singular focus on one job resulting in high-quality work. No employees suffer from the unavailability of their leaders and fatigue from doing more than one job is avoided.
  • An interim leader is committed to success because his or her reputation depends on it. And, future employment options depend on reputation.


  • This person is an outsider for peers and subordinates to get used to.
  • There will be some time spent learning the ropes. Keep in mind, these are easier to teach than job skills.
  • May be viewed as expensive but it probably outweighs the hidden costs mentioned above.

Which way to go depends on the specific situation. When deciding whether to cover a vacancy internally or externally, consider the length of time you expect the position to be vacant, the strategic initiatives underway, and needs of the individuals under that position. LeaderStat has a network of experienced Executives who can quickly step in and keep your organization moving forward.


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