What do you talk about at work? Recently, I’ve come to appreciate how many conversations I have every week about leadership issues… dozens, scores – probably thousands of these discussions over the past decade. This week, I’ve been in four conversations about the value and imperative of a leadership pipeline – and it is only Tuesday!

What do you believe about a leadership pipeline? Do you think this is something only big companies do? Do you wonder why you don’t have one? Do you want to know the secret to creating a never-ending supply of qualified leaders? Keep reading…

I’m more convinced than ever when it comes to leadership, an organization has only two real choices: Hire leaders or grow leaders. And, over the long haul, I believe the right answer is a combination of the two.

[tweet_box design=”default”]An organization has only two real choices: Hire leaders or grow leaders.[/tweet_box]

Today, I want to address the more challenging and probably more productive method – Grow your own. I’ve written previously about creating a leadership culture. I’ll not repeat myself here. However, here are a few questions for your consideration if your current pipeline is not producing enough leaders to satisfy demand.

How do you define leadership? This is the most common mistake I see in organizations struggling to develop leaders. Without an agreed upon operational definition of leadership, creating a pipeline is virtually impossible. What do you want your leaders to be able to do? What character traits are you looking for in leaders? These are non-trivial questions! They represent the foundation for any legitimate attempt to systematically grow leaders.

Who are your emerging leaders? You cannot, nor should you, invest equally in the development of all your people. Targeted and strategic investments will pay the greatest dividends. Where do you place your bet? Emerging leaders. Before you can move forward with this approach, you must know who they are.

What stretch assignments can you give them? After you’ve identified emerging leaders, you can begin to shape their development. One powerful approach is to match individuals with appropriate stretch assignments. If selected carefully, these can be opportunities to test and strengthen future leaders.

What experiences do you want emerging leaders to have? When we think about developing leaders, our first thought is often about the skills of leadership. This is important. However, experiences can add depth to a leader’s resume and contribute greatly to his or her confidence. Experiences can include such diverse situations as working in a union environment, turning around a struggling division, launching a start-up, and more. You decide.

Who can you ask to mentor or coach emerging leaders? I am a fan of mentoring and coaching. There is something that happens in the context of a relationship that rarely happens when we attempt to go it alone. When done well, coaching and mentoring can unlock vast reserves of untapped potential in people. I realize you may not be able to afford external coaching for all your people, but you can assign an internal mentor to guide, challenge and encourage emerging leaders. You’ll be glad you did.

Oh, before I finish here, I did promise you the secret to a successful leadership pipeline…

Leadership.

You will never find a successful leadership pipeline without leadership. A vibrant process for developing leaders will not emerge spontaneously. When leaders decide to make leadership a competitive advantage and invest accordingly, that’s the day the construction of your pipeline begins.[GLS_Shield]

How strong is your process for growing leaders?

Author: Mark Miller

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