6 ways to build your leadership legacy

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Written by Tom Maher, Business Development Manager, Thomas International

According to research by leadership consulting firm DDI, building a leadership pipeline is the biggest challenge that business leaders face today. Just 14% of businesses have the future leaders they need to grow (BuiltIn). Getting the right people with the right attitude and skills is essential to future business success but planning for this is difficult. So, let’s take a closer look at why you need to develop a leadership pipeline and how to do that. 

In essence, a leadership pipeline is an organisational procedure for building and maintaining a leadership succession bench. Through the development, evaluation, training, and promotion of potential leadership talent, your leadership pipeline model develops leaders across the organisation to enable succession and ongoing success. With agile working and business transformation programmes driving increased competition for leadership talent, developing a leadership pipeline is essential. Advantages include:

  • Clarifying progression

A pipeline demonstrates how leaders are developed in an organisation. How are they being selected? What are the essential criteria to understand in the choices? What experiences are they building within the organisation to see how it will best work? According to Gallup, the top cause of employee attrition is a lack of career progression opportunities, so pipeline visibility is beneficial for employee engagement and motivation as well as development.

  • Supporting succession planning

A leadership pipeline isn’t just about finding a leader, it’s also about supporting leadership development at all levels. From new starters to senior staff, creating leadership development opportunities will help to create a culture of accountability and engage your entire workforce.

A pipeline ensures there are personnel ready and able to move into roles when necessary. This is especially important in our nascent ‘gig’ economy, which is increasingly defined by project-based work that necessitates fluid succession planning. 

  • Leveraging existing leaders

Developing a leadership pipeline also gives your existing leaders the opportunity to coach and develop prospective leaders. That means that there is an opportunity to transmit knowledge to the next generation. Not only is their experience invaluable, but the coaching activity will foster open communication and add real value for your people.

  • Facilitating business expansion

The long-term future and success is being developed alongside your leadership pipeline. These programmes support business development and expansion. Selecting the right people to step into key positions will reflect in your business’ bottom line. 

  • Heightening leaders’ self-awareness

As you build new leaders, you can also improve the self-awareness and emotional intelligence of your existing leaders, and with that, their capacity to manage and motivate people. Improved decision-making, resilience and culture-setting are also benefits.


How to create a leadership pipeline

There are many ways that you can build your leadership pipeline, involving activities development, evaluation, training and career mapping. Here are some key ways you can strengthen your organisation’s leadership bench.  

  • Invest in employee development

Develop employees across the board, from new starters to seasoned leaders. Making development a core part of your culture is a great way to demonstrate to your people that they are valued. Employ a range of learning formats such as; leadership development programmes, sponsored study, secondments, mentoring, peer networks and so on. 

  • Start coaching employees early

Start coaching as early as possible in an employee’s tenure, prioritising coaching for talented and ambitious individuals looking to develop their skills and become future leaders. Even if they leave your business to develop further, if their experience in your organisation is good enough, you can rely on their advocacy and may be able to attract them back, further enriching your organisation. 

  • Forecast future leadership needs 

Engage your stakeholders with a clear vision of the challenges and opportunities facing your current and future leaders. This will promote innovation and increase your workforce’s accountability for achieving business goals and objectives, creating a leadership culture.

  • Integrate leadership development, career development and succession planning 

How will you motivate your team to develop if their personal career progression is not part of something bigger? Tie the two together to help both the organisation and the individual.

  • Identify skills gaps using talent assessments

Using tools like psychometric assessments, you can identify employees with leadership potential, and skill gaps, helping to focus your development activity for greatest impact.  

  • Appoint company executives as programme sponsors

Create opportunities for leaders to sponsor development programmes to encourage transmission of expertise and skills and precipitate best practice within the company.


How to evaluate your leadership pipeline

Measuring return on investment in leadership development programmes can be tricky, as most metrics are long term. It’s essential to ask the right questions to measure success. Here are some examples:

  • Do you hire leaders from within?

Only around 20 to 30% of organisations replace senior executives and managers from within. Understanding the split between internal and external senior hires can shed light on whether your organisation is successfully developing staff into future leaders.

  • Do you track progression?

Benchmark best practice in key roles across your organisation and track the progress of the staff who you have invested in at regular review points. This will give you a clear view of the success of your leadership development investments over time.

  • Is your leadership pipeline collectively owned?

Measuring the engagement of workforce in development activity through your retention rate will reveal how successful the business has been in instituting a leadership culture. 

  • Is your leadership pipeline transparent?

Clear, consistent communication about how development and promotion work will drive motivation, engagement and employee experience. The more communication about leadership programmes, the greater their impact.

  • Do you measure engagement with leadership pipeline development?

One of the best ways to track the progression of your future leaders is with psychometric assessments like those on the Thomas talent assessment platform. These assessments will help to identify leadership potential, focus development activity and measure engagement.

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