Over the last few years, Jim Collins has asked our organization some great questions. Here’s an example: What are the “key seats” in your organization? How many of those seats are currently filled by the right person? These are powerful questions – but in this case, the real challenge was what Jim said next.

He said, “Until your answer is 100% of my key seats are filled with the right person, you can have no higher priority.” That’s challenging!

Today, I’d like you to not only consider Jim’s questions, but another one that is related: After you’ve identified your key seats, “How’s your leadership pipeline to fill those seats in the future?” Have you ever been caught by the unexpected departure of a key player? Or perhaps it was an unexpected opportunity, and you didn’t have a leader ready to step up. Failure to have an adequate pipeline of leaders can be painful and costly.

Here are a few thoughts on how to enhance your pipeline.

1. Be sure you agree on what leadership looks like in your organization. I’ve written about this before if you’re interested. For now, just imagine the confusion if you have different leaders with different definitions of leadership introducing candidates to the system – some of which may not be viable candidates at all. Your pipeline may be filled with sludge vs. high-octane fuel.

2. Identify current and emerging leaders – by name. Sometimes there seems to be a hesitancy to do this. Maybe it feels exclusionary, maybe it feels unfair to those not called out. Regardless, you can’t invest equally in everyone. Good stewardship demands targeted investment in this arena.

3. Calibrate with your peers on how the identified leaders are performing. At Chick-fil-A, Inc., we’re just beginning a formal Leadership Talent Review process that involves leaders at several levels. We believe this will strengthen individual leaders and help us accelerate leader development.

4. Target development activities. While some one-size-fits-all activities may be appropriate, make every effort to customize the development activities for the individual leader.

5. Be sure EVERY existing leader understands that developing future leaders is a critical part of his or her role. A leader that does not do this is not fulfilling their full responsibility as a leader.

6. Don’t think short-term. Think 5 – 10 years out. Anticipate the needs of the organization the best you can. Be intentional in creating development opportunities that help people grow over time. Leadership development done well is a lot more like a crockpot than a microwave.

7. Finally, don’t assume all your leaders need to be homegrown. Clearly there are some advantages with this approach, but few growing organizations are capable of meeting every leadership need with internal candidates. If, from time to time, you realize that your pipeline has not met ALL of your leadership needs, go hire the best person in the world you can find to fill that key seat.[GLS_Shield]

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.