Do You Need a Fractional Leader® or Another Set of Hands?

The main value of Fractional Leadership® is bringing experienced, been-there-done-that direction into your leadership team to collaboratively lead and drive execution by creating discipline and accountability around a certain core function of your business.
If what you need is primarily someone to personally get things done, then Fractional Leadership may not be right for you.

Instead, you might need to hire a manager-level person, elevate someone to a greater level of responsibility, or you may have the wrong person in a key role. If that person happens to be a family member, it creates a thorny issue. You may be tempted to retain an FL to escape having to make a difficult change with one or more of your people, in the hopes that the FL will “whip them into shape.” Unfortunately, the only solution to people issues is either helping them level up or replacing them with someone more suited to the role. Retaining an FL does immunize you from the need to make a change when you have wrong-person or wrong-seat issues. It simply costs more and delays the inevitable.

That being said, particularly with respect to operations, I have found that some smaller companies (usually those with five to twenty employees) match up well with FLs with experience at similar-sized businesses. In these engagements, the FL has a dual role of acting as a member of the leadership team as well as just getting stuff done. I call these “Doer Leaders”. Particularly for operations, there is sometimes a place for a dual head of operations and FCOO role, but it’s a tricky balance and you must ensure that your expectations are aligned with those of your potential FL. I’ll explain more about this in Chapters 8 and 9.

For example, Rachel Beider, founder and CEO of Press Modern Massage and author of Massage MBA, worked to scale a massage practice in Brooklyn, New York. She fought tooth and nail over about seven years to expand into seventeen treatment rooms in two locations.
But she was stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious all the time. Everything was on her head. She had to supervise her staff, drive expansion to new locations, furnish the treatment rooms, lead marketing, and oversee everything else that went into running a business. She felt like it was actually running her into the ground. Rachel could not afford a full-time COO, so she finally connected with another woman who could act as her FCOO to take over supervision of the staff and execute on the various physical expansions. That way, Rachel could focus more on building the business, marketing, and clinical supervision and culture, things she loved doing and was great at. She credits her FCOO with restoring her sanity and her ability to expand her practice to five locations in less than a third of the time it took her to open just her second location.

  • For those who need more of a Doer Leader, there are two main approaches they can take:
    Hire a manager or head of operations full-time. They don’t have to be super -experienced in larger companies or be leadership team material. Business owners considering this route should understand that such a manager-level or head of operations will still cost more than the people they already have on board. Once they have a manager-level person on the team, they can then reconsider Fractional Leadership because the FL will then have someone they can rely on to drive day-to-day tactical execution while the FL brings greater strategic and accountability leadership.
  • Find a Fractional Integrator an FI or FCOO who’s looking for a more tactical, Doer Leader role in addition to the leadership element. I know many such people available and I usually introduce those business owners to two or three of them whom I can vouch for.
    In my experience, Doer Leaders are a relatively small part of the Fractional Leadership community because they work more hours for a smaller number of clients. Whenever I speak with potential clients, I always probe for a clear understanding of their expectations so I know if they’re looking for a Fractional Integrator more focused on leading, managing, and creating accountability (a “Manager Leader”), or if they’re looking more for a tactical, get’ ‘er done, head of operations (a “Doer Leader”). For those business owners who are looking for a Doer Leader, I let them know that I am more of the leadership, management, and accountability type of FL, and that I’m probably not a good fit for what they’re looking for.

For most business owners, the right time for Fractional Leadership is when they desperately need the experience, leadership, and ability to drive execution and accountability—that is, i.e., a Manager Leader. Fractional Leadership is usually not right for people who just need an extra set of hands.

Why Fractional Leadership Exploded: Crossing the Remote Work Event Horizon

Before COVID, I worked on business development, trying to find Fractional Integrator (outsourced COO) clients regardless of whether they lived in my local area (New York City area) or anywhere else in the world.
The problem I faced was that people couldn’t imagine someone working at the leadership level with someone they couldn’t sit with eyeball-to-eyeball. Many just could not get their heads around that even if they understood and believed that Fractional Leadership would have propelled their businesses far further than they could have taken them on their own.
Everything changed in March 2020. People were literally forced to work with all of their employees, including their leadership teams, remotely. Most discovered that the sky did not fall down and productivity did not plummet when people worked from home.
After months – or longer – of remote work, I saw a dramatic shift in attitude. When people began to get their bearings, they realized that they were not limited by geography when putting together their best team.
Starting around May and June 2020, I and many other Fractional Leaders I know began getting far more inquiries and filled up our client rosters much more quickly than before.
Personally, I refer to this phenomena, combined with the increasing effectiveness of remote work and collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, Asana, and the like around that time, as crossing the “remote work event horizon.”
The term event horizon refers to the demarcation line around a black hole beyond which an object can pass by without being sucked in. But if something crosses within a black hole’s event horizon, even light, there’s no turning back.
As Zoom’s chief product officer Odel Gal said about the lockdown, “All the people that were resistant to using the technology were forced to use it.” Now my former colleagues are in no rush to bring their teams back to the office.
Even my own former company, which resisted my efforts to perform remote work experiments, decided not to return to in-person work even after it became permitted safety-wise.
Because remote work is now so prevalent, even at the executive level, bringing in experienced Fractional Leadership to solve the Entrepreneurial Catch-22 is much easier for business owners to wrap their heads around. Forbes now claims that its own prediction that over 50% of the workforce would be remote by 2027 was too conservative.
When leaders were forced to acclimate to people working remotely, they even realized that without time around the water cooler, so to speak, their people were about 13% more productive than they were in the office.
I think we have crossed the remote work event horizon. Once everyone was forced to try out remote work at least for several months, it let the genie out of the bottle. There will always be some people who are hard-wired to hate not working in person. And that’s fine. Very often people can find a Fractional Leader in their own city. If, before the pandemic, 15% of business owners would have considered a C-level, Fractional Leader, I estimate that perhaps 30-50% are now open to it.