9 Things To Consider When Developing a Leadership Pipeline

Imagine for a moment that several of your top employees are relocating, moving, or for some reason leaving your business and as a result, you have a leadership vacuum.

As you start looking around for people to step up to fill a vacancy as a manager or team member, you realize you’re facing a leadership deficit.

This scenario is not uncommon in business. It can affect the overall health of any organization. Therefore, it’s safe to say that developing leaders is one of the essential elements of business health and growth.

A lack of developing leaders will create a “perfect storm” for any organization!

One solution is to take a systematic approach and develop a leadership pipeline. Put a plan and process in place to grow your own leaders. The long-term health of your business could hinge on an internal leadership development plan for cultivating, choosing, and coaching future leaders.

Here are a nine things to consider in regard to developing a leadership pipeline:

Take a proactive approach.

Here’s Webster’s definition of proactive: “Acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty.” Being proactive is preparing for things that are going to happen instead of waiting until they happen. Preparation is key. Most business owners (and decision makers) are too reactive. A proactive approach to developing leaders helps forecast leadership needs and develop people. Be prepared to deal with naysayers who believe planning and preparation is a waste of time.

Define “Leadership Pipeline.”

You’ll likely need to develop a working definition as this concept is often foreign to business owners (and decision makers). Here’s an example:

A leadership pipeline is a developmental process that provides organizations with a constant flow of quality, diverse, and competent leaders who can lead the organization to fulfill its mission and vision throughout time.

Start a discussion.

Switch from a telling model to an asking model. Start asking questions about the business’ need for leaders, where will they come from, and how they’ll be developed. Gather a few people, pull your collective IQ together, and come up with 6–10 key questions that can become discussion starters. Capture discussion content to filter for use later.

Cultivate awareness.

Move discussions about developing leaders from the c-suite or a small circle to a wider circle. Continue to repeat the process until awareness has penetrated your entire organization. Ready yourself for some “healthy” discussions! People tend to lean toward the belief that leaders are born not developed. It seems some people are natural born leaders. However, most leaders are people who were developed over time. Personal and professional development is not only “transformational” it helps shape and reflect organizational development.

Build consensus.

Once awareness is in place and you’ve filtered discussion content, bring people and ideas together to create unity of thought and purpose. Consensus is agreement at a healthy and high level to move forward with a decision. Consensus would mean our organization is ready and in agreement we must move forward in developing a leadership pipeline.

Leverage synergy.

Capitalize on the synergy created from unity and see what else you are missing that may need to be addressed. Ask these kinds of questions… Do we have a strategy in place that keeps us focused? How does our structure reflect our strategy? How can we adjust our structure to be the best delivery system for our strategy? Developing a leadership pipeline is definitely something worth doing, but if you are missing other essential elements like strategy and structure, this is a good time to place them at the top of your organization’s to-do list.

Integrate development and succession planning.

These two areas go together like brownies and ice cream. Give some thought to the people who’ll replace leaders in key roles. Who are the “high potentials” in development phases that can replace leaders rotating out of roles? Make sure you give potential leaders exposure, opportunity, responsibility, accountability, and a scorecard for success in the areas where leadership succession will occur before it actually happens. Not just “dry runs” but reality checks for calling, passion and competency.

Develop a leadership pipeline flow.

Here’s a simplified example of key components in a leadership pipeline: Identify — Select — Assess — Develop — Support — Coach — Place — Measure — Succeed — Celebrate.

Secure a consultant or coach (if you need help).

Larger organizations may have the internal brain capital and those with expertise to build a great leadership pipeline. Others will need to seek out consultants or coaches who can act as an effective thought partner and help with process and content.