The Execution of Your Leadership Pipeline System

Pipeline, Washington, USA

Your company’s future depends on it.

In my 2015 book, The Answer Is Leadership, I made reference to the fact that approximatly 22% of the CEOs who make developing current and future leaders a priority (and that includes adjusting their budget to accommodate this), reveals their strong level of commitment. This number is too low. It’s time to invest effort and money into developing your leadership pipeline. The goal of this article is to help you manage the promoting and developing of your talent system faster and more effectively.

There are usually four layers of employees in most businesses: executives, directors, managers and associates. And, there are three fundamental steps on the leadership ladder. Now, picture doors that your employees must pass through on the path to leadership. These passages are significant and will take time – they can’t be mastered in a day or by taking a course. Rest assured that these passages are attainable and that once you grasp what they entail and understand the challenges involved in making each transition, you’ll be in a better position to use this information to unclog your organization leadership pipeline.

Future Leadership Work
To evaluate future work potential, the first step is to scrutinize past achievements with a focus on skills. Another important factor in to ascertain the level of that person’s ability to efficiently learn new skills and their eagerness to tackle bigger and more complex assignments.

Next step is for you to determine the performance requirements that are needed at every key leadership level. You need to define what skills and experiences are needed to transition from one level to the next, as building a leadership pipeline relies on a successful matching of an individual’s potential with the requirements of future positions.

Leaving The Old Ways of Success Behind
Clear the plate and start from scratch. Don’t let pre-conceived leadership steps muddy the waters. Building an effective leadership pipeline requires that you be willing to think clearly, investigate all options, and be prepared to act “outside the box.” Bestselling author and global advisor to CEOs, Ram Charan, is quoted as saying that “Each door that one passes through requires that people acquire new ways of leading and leave old ways behind in the following three areas:

1. Skill requirements – the new capabilities required to execute new assignments
2. Time application – new time frames that govern how one works
3. Work values – what people believe is important and so becomes their focus”

Identify future leaders early
To build effective leadership at all levels, organizations need to identify leadership candidates early. Test candidates by providing them with growth opportunities and challenges. Don’t stop there. It’s critical to follow up by giving them useful feedback and coaching. In an MIT Sloan article titled Building Competitive Advantage it read: “by far the most critical development tools are intensive individual feedback and coaching.” Is your organization leveraging certified executive coaches?

Targeted development
You can not expedite the development of leaders unless you have an accurate development target, and this means acknowledging that roles and responsibilities of leaders shift at different levels of leadership. In my book The Answer is Leadership, I describe 23 options to expedite the development of talent. Following are six examples to help expedite development:

1. Work 1-1 with a certified executive coach
2. Leadership training
3. Mentor someone
4. Teach a leadership class
5. Rotational assignments
6. Join a volunteer board of directors
7. Read leadership books
8. Author an article or book

Door #1 From Associate to Manager
Candidates become promotable after they have broadened their skills and have successfully completed assignments in the given time frame. They become even more desirable when they have shown that they have a willingness to collaborate and are open to change. This is where many trip up. Often, high performing people are reluctant to change.

In the first leadership passage, tasks usually center on things such as planning work, filling jobs, assigning work, motivating, coaching and measuring the work of others. First time managers must learn to manage their time so that they not only complete their work, but have time to help their team(s). First time managers need to learn how to reallocate their time so that they not only complete their assigned work, but also help others perform effectively.
In this passage, values are the most difficult hurdle managers have to jump. In the past they valued being an individual producer. Now they must learn to value making others productive.

This time is an especially difficult transition for first-time managers.

Door #2 From Manager to Director
At this level a company’s management foundation is laid. It’s here that candidates to become the company’s executives are groomed. Here managers must begin to think beyond their daily function and consider strategic issues that will overall support the business.

What’s important here is to make sure that you don’t “clog” the leadership pipeline by promoting managers that did not receive ample leadership training. “As a result, they clog the leadership pipeline because they hold first-line managers accountable for technical work rather than managerial work.” (Ram Charan, The Leadership Pipeline p.19)

It’s important to note that coaching is an integral part of the training at this level. It’s a double-edged sword – it requires time and commitment and is often overlooked. Yet, it can make the difference between a mediocre passage to a stellar passage.

Door #3 From Director to Executive
Communication skills are the key factor here. Knowing how to be a team player and being a strong strategist and competing for resources require great communication skills.

Linking Development to Performance
In many organizations, especially those I consult with, we integrate individual development plans into the organization’s accountability system. The goal is to prepare leaders in advance. Too often, organizations do not realize that their leaders aren’t performing at full capacity because they aren’t holding them accountable for the right things. It’s imperative that these deficiencies are detected and solved.

The ball is in your court. Are you going to continue to be frustrated with your company’s performance? Or be more strategic with developing your current talent? Or go on the open market and buy new talent? The choice is yours. Please do not promote your top performers, only to watch them struggle or fail.

John Lankford

John Lankford was recognized as the 2007-2010 Associate Business Advisor of the Year in North America and brings proven executive experience and best practices to select companies every year. He served 18 years at the Executive Education Center at Ford Motor Company and is former Senior Director of Ascension Health Learning Institute. John has developed top leaders around the world in partnership with the University of Michigan Business School, the Center for Creative Leadership, Comcast University and GE University, to name a few. His business expertise has been tapped by prominent business media such as the New York Times, CBS and Dbusiness magazine and has been a syndicated business columnist. He is the author of The Answer is Leadership and Superstar for life…Career Transitions. John’s keynote speaking has landed him on the elite team that trains and certifies the new Executive Coaches joining the worldwide coaching community. John is also former Chief Executive Officer of the Innisbrook Leadership Institute. Lankford can be reached at john@premierexecutiveforums.com or call (888) 730-1950

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