5 Steps to Developing a Pipeline of Leadership Talent

By: Mark Plaster

Mark Plaster is President of Markwood Partners, and has a wealth of career experience in the areas of HR strategy and consulting, talent management, executive succession, leadership development, and change management. Mark has led the development of comprehensive talent management strategies and implemented processes to assess, develop and manage leadership talent. Contact him via email or LinkedIn.

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In recent surveys, executives note the need to develop leaders at all levels of their organizations. Respondents also acknowledge that their current leadership programs do not have the necessary business impact. This dilemma highlights some of the questions decision makers face when positioning their organizations for success:

  • How do I help my leaders to be successful now as well as prepare them for future opportunities?
  • What new skills will my leaders need 3 to 5 years from now?
  • How can I ensure I am developing a pipeline of leaders in my company?
  • Is there more to development than just training?

These questions take on even more significance given the shifts taking place in the workforce. As experienced leaders move on or retire, they take with them years of accumulated knowledge and experience. Many of these leaders had grown into their responsibilities over time, a luxury that may not exist for their successors. The need for new leaders to become proficient more quickly, along with learning a more demanding set of skills, presents a serious challenge.

One of the keys to a successful leadership development program is to ensure the effort meets the specific objectives of leaders at each level of the organization. The needs of front-line supervisors, mid-level leaders, and senior executives must be met in a way that not only addresses individual gaps, but also reinforces the organization’s overall leadership culture.

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So, where do you begin in your efforts to build a full and flowing pipeline of leadership talent? Here are some activities to get you started:

  • Clarify current and future leadership needs across the organization: Don’t just focus on creating more of what you already have today, think about where your business is heading and what skills your leaders will need to drive future success.
  • Link leadership development to organizational succession planning and individual career development plans: Leadership development is most effective when linked to other key programs. Use your succession planning discussions to highlight needs for entire groups of leaders (i.e., all front-line managers), as well as individual needs for specific succession candidates.
  • Use talent assessments to accurately target specific development gaps: A supervisor’s judgment is a key element in identifying a leader’s development needs. You can augment the supervisor’s perspective with assessments designed to provide a valid, objective view of the leader’s performance and potential. Over time, the database of assessment results can be a great source of insight on the strengths and needs of the organization’s leaders.
  • Position company executives for success as program sponsors as well as teachers: Strategically placing your organization’s key leaders in front of program participants serves two valuable purposes: 1) This positioning demonstrates commitment well beyond the need to simply “write the check” for development, and 2) It allows executives to share the insights and personal stories that bring many leadership topics to life.
  • Employ a complete range of development resources: Think beyond just the traditional classroom. Include in-role development opportunities, coaching and mentoring, special projects or cross-functional assignments, as well as participation in formal learning programs.

By assessing your current and future leadership needs and taking a thoughtful approach to development, you will take important steps to ensuring that your organization is positioned for business success.


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