Filling the Pipeline for Succession Planning

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By Dr. RJ Gardner

Leadership development is the crux of 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. Leadership development may also “shape” one’s values and attitudes in conjunction with the organization’s values and attitudes. Finally, leadership development addresses one’s ability to lead others.

Across all industries, there are leadership development programs. There are leadership development programs in most major universities. In our technology-based society, there are also seminars, webcams, virtual classrooms, newsletters (and yes blogs) 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, unqualified leadership?


The Role of Leadership Development

There are valid points on both sides of the coin when trying to address the age-old question: “Are leaders born or are leaders developed?” While there is significant and far reaching research that shows one may be born with viable leadership traits, I am firmly in the group that believes leaders are developed. Regardless of the leadership traits, skills, or innate patterns one demonstrates, you 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 of transferring knowledge and developing leadership skills.

Some researchers argue that leadership traits can be observed at childhood. Some children “naturally” take the lead and demonstrate leadership behaviors with peers in their social environment (i.e. school; extracurricular activities; other siblings, etc). However, demonstrating leadership skills at an early age may highlight those who are willing to follow just as much as highlighting those who are willing and able to lead. Part of human nature is to consider ideas and solutions from others when/if we do not have an idea or solution of our own.   

Second, leadership development helps the organization fill the pipeline with capable, qualified leaders to ensure continuity of business operations. In a time of economic downturn, many companies look for ways to minimize expenses. Unfortunately, one of the first areas to get cut is training and development. The short term effect is potential increased profitability from eliminating an expense. The long term effect is a potential organization in disarray without developed leaders in place to provide vision, clarity, and direction as the organization navigates through a highly competitive business environment. Finally, how can an organization successfully select and retain talent if they have no program for developing that talent (any volunteers for working in an organization that cannot or will not provide you with development and training opportunities)?


Selecting Leadership Development Candidates 

The next crucial component in leadership development is determining who will be selected for leadership development. It is imperative the organization has a fair, unbiased employee performance appraisal process in place to accurately evaluate employee performance and 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 documented substantial financial penalties organizations have paid because of unfair employee promotion and employee salary practices. If the selection process for leadership development emulates these dysfunctional practices, the long term consequences will also result in financial disaster. 

The cost of replacing incompetent, unqualified leaders is expensive. The organization must retrace its steps: re-state the leadership qualifications and the role it is trying to fill; re-identify and re-evaluate viable candidates; and re-select a leader. Without internal leadership development, the organization may seek external leaders. Though an external leader may have the competencies to be successful, will their values, attitudes, and beliefs align with the organization? The possible damage to organization morale, team effectiveness, and employee productivity may be impacted. Employees will lose trust and confidence in the organization if their existing leadership cannot display integrity and ability in selecting good talent. Finally, heightened vigilance for not adhering to government regulations will result in hefty fines and potential negative reaction from the investment community – which all organization’s proactively seek to avoid. 


Implications for Aspiring Leaders

The role(s) of the leadership selection process and leadership development are not new. They have been in existence for decades. For those aspiring to become leaders in today’s business environment, the following tips will 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 not become a leader within that organization if you are not included in this development. You may successfully deliver significant initiatives for the organization which will result in other types of rewards and recognition, but it will not result in a leadership role. 
  • Follow up with your manager/leader on a specified period of time 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 is not alignment, your priorities will not translate into the desired results.

If you are meeting/exceeding the expectations of your role within the organization, and following these guidelines do not result in leadership development for you, you might not be a fit for that organization.

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