Filling the Pipeline for Succession Planning by R.J. Gardner

Leadership development is the crux of any long-term success of business operations. It focuses on identifying, evaluating, and improving the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies of those chosen to lead the organization. It may also help shape one’s values and attitudes in conjunction with the organization’s. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, it addresses one’s ability to lead others.

There are leadership-development programs offered across essentially all industries, as well as in most major universities. In our technology-based society, there are also seminars, webcams, virtual classrooms, newsletters, and even blogs focusing on leadership and leadership development. With so many avenues for leadership training and development, the question still remains; why are there so many organizations with poor and/or unqualified leadership?

Role of Leadership Development

There are valid points on both sides of the coin when trying to address the age-old debate of whether effective leaders are born or can be developed. While there is significant and far- reaching research that shows one may be born with viable leadership qualities, I personally am firmly in the group that believes leaders are developed. Regardless of any leadership traits, skills, or innate patterns one demonstrates, one must still undergo an experiential process to develop, enhance, and perfect those skills. Retention of leadership concepts through training classes has been estimated in the range of 10-15%. There must be a comprehensive, hands-on approach to transferring knowledge and developing leadership skills.

Some researchers argue that leadership traits can be observed at childhood. Indeed, some children naturally take the lead and demonstrate leadership behavior with peers in their social environment (school, extracurricular activities, siblings, etc). However, demonstrating leadership skills at an early age may also highlight those who are willing to follow just as much as it may highlight those who are willing and able to lead. Part of human nature is to consider ideas and solutions from others when or if we lack an idea or solution of our own.

Second, leadership development helps an organization fill its pipeline with capable, qualified leaders, which helps ensure continuity of business operations. In periods of economic downturn, many companies look for ways to minimize expenses. Unfortunately, one of the first areas to get cut is training and development. While the short-term effect is, of course, potential increased profitability from eliminating an expense, the long term effect is a potential company in disarray, without developed leaders in place to provide vision, clarity, and direction as the firm attempts to navigate through a highly competitive business environment. Finally, how can any organization successfully select and retain talent if it has no program for developing that talent?

Selecting Leadership Development Candidates

The next crucial component in leadership development is determining who will be selected for it. It is imperative the organization has a fair, unbiased employee-performance appraisal process in place to accurately evaluate potential leadership candidates. Multiple reports provided by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) identify biased, unfair and illegal hiring practices. Further, EEOC reports document substantial financial penalties organizations have paid because of unfair employee promotion and salary practices. If the selection process for leadership development in any way emulates such dysfunctional practices, the long-term consequences will be financial disaster, among other things.

The cost of replacing incompetent, unqualified leaders is expensive. The corporation must retrace its steps by re-stating the leadership qualifications and the role it is trying to fill; re-identifying and re-evaluating viable candidates; and re-selecting a leader. Without internal leadership development, an organization may need to seek external leaders, which raises another issue — while an external leader may have the competencies to be successful, will his or her values, attitudes, and beliefs align with the organization’s? Morale, team effectiveness, and employee productivity may be impacted. Employees will quickly lose trust and confidence in the organization if the existing leadership cannot display integrity and ability in selecting good talent. Finally, not adhering to government regulations will result in hefty fines and potential negative reaction from the investment community, which all organizations proactively seek to avoid.

Implications for Aspiring Leaders

The role of the leadership-selection process and leadership development are not new. They’ve been in existence for decades. For those aspiring to become leaders in today’s business environment, the following tips can be beneficial:

  • Invest time and effort in your individual development plan. Make sure you conduct an accurate self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Discuss your self-assessment with your manager/leader and devise a plan to help improve your skills together.
  • Seek input on how to get selected or considered for future selection into the organization’s leadership development program. You will, simply, not become a leader within the organization if you’re not included. You may successfully deliver significant initiatives for the organization which can result in other types of rewards and recognition, but it may not result in a leadership role.
  • Follow up with your manager/leader in a specified time period to ensure you are adequately fulfilling the goals, objectives, and milestones in your individual development plan in conjunction with the organization’s goals, objectives, and milestones. If there’s no alignment, your priorities will not translate into the desired results.

If you are meeting or exceeding the expectations of your role within the organization, and following these guidelines does not result in leadership development for you, you might not be a good fit for that organization, and, unfortunately, it may be time to look elsewhere.