First among equals: The main reason you have a leaky leadership pipeline

 – A 5 minute read –

There are many reasons why your organisation may not have a high quality leadership pipeline upon which to call when a current leader moves on, or a new position is created that requires someone to head it up. However, one reason above all others is the most significant contributing factor to the lack of leadership talent patiently waiting in the wings. It is the reason why reports such as Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report regularly suggest leadership development is so high on the list of concerns for Executives.

Get a handle on these

If you are experiencing a dearth of people who are ready or willing to step up into the role of your most senior leaders, it could well be because:

  • Your current cadre of senior leaders provide a really poor role model for aspirants
  • More junior leaders don’t get an insight into senior leadership roles and so make assumptions about what it must be like to be in such a role
  • Talent programmes alienate both those inside them and those excluded from them
  • Regulatory pressures, such as the Senior Manager Regime, are debilitating and putting a lot of talented people off making the leap into the most senior leadership positions
  • The culture in your organisation fails to support and promote female leaders in the right kind of numbers into the most senior roles.

Whilst these reasons are all important and you will do well to explore them, they are not the largest single reason for your currently empty (or leaky) leadership pipeline. The largest single reason for the very real challenges that exist around leadership succession is that the current in-house leadership population do not typically do an effective job of developing the next round of leaders.

Skills shortage

Senior people tell me they are under such pressure to deliver that they don’t have the time to dedicate to mentoring and coaching their successors. I get it but it’s not the whole story. Time pressures exist, certainly. So do ego, insecurity and self-centredness. Yet even these negative traits, in my experience, are nowhere near as prevalent as some would have you believe.

No, it’s much simpler than that: Developing very senior leaders requires a skillset that many current leaders just don’t possess, even where they are willing to try and where they could prioritise sufficient time to do so. Whilst there are doubtless technical skills required to lead at the highest level, so much of the role requires a highly developed personal psyche and social-cognitive profile. All of which allows for nuanced, responses and complex personal and interpersonal responses to the challenges faced when in the ultimate leadership positions.

A range of solutions

For the technical areas a ‘wannabe leader’ can turn to an external mentor or their current boss, either of whom may have excelled in the role and can share really important insights. Yet, those same people rarely possess the abilities to develop a human being, in order that that person is able to step into a senior leadership role with confidence, able to hold their own in the highly charged environment, from Day 1.

Acknowledging such difficulties in developing pretty deep elements of a person’s make-up, prompts many large organisations to look to experienced leadership development providers, who can provide the highest quality one-to-one support for would-be leaders. It is only through such an approach that many potential seniors leaders will be able to succeed in the long term, as the Executives and CEOs of tomorrow.

Dr Glenn P Wallis provides leadership consultancy and executive coaching to senior leaders in organisations. He also provides keynote presentations and writes extensively from his experience of nearly 20 years in the field. If you would like to find out more, please contact us here.


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