The Leadership Pipeline

"The worst-case scenario for poor selection was always thought to be hiring the wrong person. But today that is only the third worst-case scenario. Two even more serious problems are (1) failing to recognize and hire the right person, instead letting this ideal candidate sail invisibly through the selection process, and (2) leaving the wrong person in the job too long."

- The Leadership Pipelines, page xii

The Leadership Pipeline is essentially divided into two sections. The first section is defining and understanding the Leadership Pipeline and the skills, time application, and values that are required at each turn. The second half identifies keys areas that are required to use it in a successful way; identifying problems, failures, and setting up applications for successful movement.

There are six defined passages in the Leadership Pipeline model starting at Managing Self through to Enterprise Manager. The tricky part is that not all organizations have all six passages as six distinct roles. Wherein that case some positions, like a CEO for example, may act as the Enterprise Manager and Group Manager functions together. At the end of each chapter are FAQ questions that help bring these questions to light as you start to reflect on your own organization. Each passage is reviewed under the three critical criteria:

  • Skill Requirement: are they capable to fulfill their duties
  • Time Applications: framework on how one works
  • Work Values: What individuals believe it is most important, and becomes their focus of work

The most consistent underlying source of failure at any turn within the Leadership Pipeline is due the fact that the manager sustained the same skills, time applications, and work values that allowed them to be successful in their previous role. Effectively they did not adapt. The descriptions of each passage are simple and relatable across any organization. At first it seems almost too simplistic. When you layer on the fact that most organizations struggle to effectively or consistently define these passages, it is very clear where things start to breakdown.

The second half of the book is where reality sets in. The chapters focus on diagnosing and pinpointing improvements, succession planning, performance development and coaching. Each of these functions are vital to your pipeline staying filled and successful. It’s where you will identify complexities and the broader scope and impact of adopting this framework – you might even feel overwhelmed. However, the model is built on such a clear and simple fundamentals that you can start to easily identify areas of concern and what you can do be better aligned.

The authors are very upfront in the beginning that this book is not just for those in HR, which I fully agree with. You can easily use their principles and model for your own growth or just your individual team. If you are so bold as to bring it to life within your entire organization, it is still extremely relevant as well.

The Golden Egg

Golden Egg: The biggest takeaway from the book

Do as I value, not as I say

"Contrary to popular belief, time isn’t allocated based on a boss’s directives but on what the individual views as valuable work. You’ll find that if you think and talk about time applications and values in relation to each other, a clear picture will emerge as to whether someone is meeting their requirements for a given leadership level."
- The Leadership Pipeline, page 170

It is unrealistic to believe that you’re going to build an entire organization or pipeline with all rising stars. With increased competition for talent, organizations need to not only figure how to successfully keep their rising stars but also build a strong reliable workforce based on leadership. All employees should be and can be developed. When we wonder why individuals who were successful in one role but then struggle in their next position, or why good people move on for other growth opportunities often can be attributed pipeline failures. As a leader at any level you need to ask yourself first the appropriate questions about where you are at within the leadership pipeline and are your behaviours and actions aligned with what you truly value as most important. You can easily start with the following two GEMs.

Gem #1

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Am I getting the most out of my team?

"Too often, organizations don’t realize that their leaders aren’t performing at full capacity because they aren’t holding them accountable for the right things."
- The Leadership Pipeline, page 30

Get people to be accountable for the actual results you need. Focusing on output where there’s misalignment in job design about what their results should be in that role and how to determine if it is successful or not will only yield poor quality and dissatisfaction. Be clear in understanding specifically what differentiates one passage in the pipeline from the other. Remember, you need to be able to articulate this clearly for yourself first before you can define this for your team; the problem may begin with you.

Gem #2

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Am I coaching towards the results that I want?

"In many organizations, coaching ability isn’t rewarded (and the lack of it isn’t penalized). It’s no wonder that relatively few managers view coaching as a mission critical."
- The Leadership Pipeline, page 20

Inevitably when a person makes a turn in the leadership pipeline to the next level there will be a performance gap (which is okay). How you successfully close this gap is through coaching. Ensure that you are spending enough time coaching your team towards the results that are appropriate to their level (which you’ve clearly defined now based on the above). Even if you think you spend time coaching now, you likely should spend more. This can be challenging if this skill is not valued or recognized, so start by evaluating your own position to ensure that it is. Coaching is best done through managing and actionable learning as opposed to formal sessions. If you don’t come by it naturally, start small and seek feedback. If you have a mentor or role model this is a great topic to discuss with them on how to bring this to life in your management style.

If you’re looking to re-haul your entire organization’s job design or just wanting to better understand ways that you build a stronger team, you can apply this model. In your current position do you have a clear sense of what you’re accountable for and are there measures in place to successfully determine that? Is what your time and output on aligned to what is actually most valuable? You need to answer these questions first for yourself and then start to include your team around you. You can easily start to unlock not only your own but your team’s true ability.

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Alison Spitzer

ABOUT Alison Spitzer

Alison is a Planning and Budgeting Finance Manager in Healthcare. Her colleagues will describe her as "not your typical accountant." She is passionate about driving success and building highly effective teams...
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