How to Build a Successful Leadership Pipeline

If leadership skills are on your talent wishlist, you’re not alone. Almost half of the companies surveyed for Workplace Trends’ Global Workforce Leadership survey in February and March said that leadership is the hardest skill to find in employees. What’s more, among the 1,000 employees surveyed, only 36 percent said leadership is a strength in their organization.

The natural leaders you’re looking for may not exist — you need to develop them, and a leadership pipeline is key. Just as a talent pipeline ensures you have a steady stream of employees, a leadership pipeline is a constant cycle of recruiting and developing leadership potential.

Here are a few steps to create a strong leadership pipeline and grow the leaders you’re looking for:

Bring in fresh talent

A successful leadership pipeline is made up of both internal and external talent. You need a recruitment plan in place to have a steady stream of talent to develop. This means looking for fresh talent to take entry level positions as you move internal talent into leadership positions. In other words, you need to always be recruiting.

Put a plan in motion to recruit recent graduates. Attend career fairs at local colleges, launch internship programs, and create a strong social media and online presence to attract young talent. A graduate recruitment program is the future of the company, so take the time to think about which skills and characteristics are the most important.

Are you looking for an outstanding student with hands on experience, or are attitude and enthusiasm bigger priorities?

Screen for leadership potential

Leadership isn’t for everyone, and you need to determine which talent should be put on the path to leadership. In fact, a study conducted by Gallup found that just 18 percent of current managers have the talent required for the role.

What makes a manager highly talented? Great managers possess a rare combination of five traits, according to the Gallup study — they motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships, and make informed decisions for the good of their team and company.

But just one in 10 people possess all five of these ideal talents. The study also found that two in 10 people possess some of these traits and can become successful managers with the right coaching and development.

Screen employees for these qualities when building your leadership pipeline. If you think an employee has leadership potential, speak with their coworkers and direct manager about their relationships at work. Determine how they act under pressure and if they’re a team player. A good candidate for leadership will consider the needs of others, have strong relationships with their coworkers, and take responsibility for their work and mistakes.

Download our eBook on Learning and Development Trends and find out how technology enables succession management and leadership development.

Prepare employees for leadership

Once you have identified those with potential, don’t just throw them into a leadership position — training and development are a major part of the leadership pipeline.

You may already provide training to potential leaders, but is it valuable? After all, 39 percent of companies surveyed by Workplace Trends offered leadership development programs, but just 15 percent of employees felt it effectively prepared them for their next role.

Personalizing training programs can make them more engaging and effective. The 2013-14 Benchmarking study conducted by Towards Maturity found that 86 percent of employees surveyed learn what they need to know from work by collaborating with others.

Set up a mentoring program in which seasoned managers offer advice to aspiring leaders. Employees can ask them questions, shadow them, and have one-on-one meetings and discussions.

Continue developing managers

Development doesn’t end when leaders assume their positions. The final stage of the leadership pipeline is engaging and supporting leaders with continued learning.

According to another report released by Gallup in April, only 35 percent of managers are engaged at work. And when managers are disengaged so are the employees they lead. The study found that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59 percent more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.

Invest in leaders, and give them resources and tools to grow professionally and cultivate their skills. Offer them online courses, and allow them to attend conferences and events. Speak with leaders individually to determine which skills they want to strengthen, which topics interest them, or what type of education would be most beneficial to them.

Natural leaders are hard to find, but shifting the focus to developing leaders, instead of finding them, can ensure your organization has talented leaders for years to come.

Do you have a leadership pipeline in place? How do you maintain it?

Download our eBook on Learning and Development Trends and find out how technology enables succession management and leadership development.

About the author:

Robyn Melhuish is the Communications Manager at, a job board which gives members access to the most sought after medical sales jobs and pharmaceutical sales jobs on the Web. Connect with Robyn and on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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