How Deep is a CEOs Leadership Talent Pipeline? From Top to Bottom?

How Deep is a CEOs Leadership Talent Pipeline? From Top to Bottom?


Do you have enough of them in your organisation? For today? For tomorrow?

What I am hearing from leaders of organisations, large and small, is that they simply do not have enough leadership talent. They no longer have the depth of capable and experienced leaders. From executive leaders, through middle management and to emerging leaders, there is a lack of talent ready to step into available roles.

Some of this is because leaders have left the workforce, moved into different organisations they feel more aligned with, or have downgraded their role in order to create the kind of life they want to live. They are making the decisions to reevaluate where work fits into their lives. We have all heard of quiet quitting, and the great resignation. The upshot is that organisations are left with a leadership gap. And insufficient leadership talent to fill the gap.

I wonder why?

Is it the way that we are approaching leadership, thinking about leadership, or developing leaders?

We know there is a gap in the development of leaders and DDI research shows that global leadership bench strength is on the decline. From a high in 2014 of 18% of HR leaders saying they have a strong bench to fill leadership roles, down to 14% in 2017 and only 11% in 2020. Based on recent history, I suggest this number has continued to fall.

What is the state of your leadership talent bench?

This presents a risk because we need our leaders to lead us through the VUCA world that we experience, live, and operate in every day. We need leaders who can lead through ongoing change and disruption.

I believe our vision of leadership needs to be expanded. It needs to be bigger. When you think about your leaders and your leadership talent, your future leaders, I wonder what are the thoughts that you consider?

I hear from leaders that they look for the top talent in their organisation, and they target specific people based on some predefined factors. But what this approach means is they are missing out on all the other leaders in their organisation.

I believe every individual in your organisation is a leader, certainly a leader of self, and has the capacity potentially to lead in a broader sense if you give them the opportunity. Rather than excluding them from the opportunity because they are not on the ‘high potential’ list.

I have a wonderful colleague based in the US, Dr. Nanette Miner, who works with small and medium-sized businesses, particularly around the concept of ‘everybody should have leadership skills.’ Everybody is a potential future hierarchical or organisational leader for you. At the very minimum, they are a leader of self.

And because of this she believes in order to create the biggest opportunity and the biggest pool of leadership capability in your organisation, you need to develop all your people with leadership skills.

“Growing other leaders from the ranks isn’t just the duty of the leader, it’s an obligation.” 

Warren Bennis, American scholar and author, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership Studies.

After all, let’s think about it, leadership skills include things like great communication and relationship building. Skills of collaboration, and problem-solving. Coaching and mentoring. Are these truly skills that only people in organisational leadership roles need? Or are they skills for everyone?

Imagine how much easier it would be for an organisational leader to perform well in their roles if all the people in their team had these fundamental leadership skills. It would make life for organisational leaders much, much easier if all the people in their teams were leaders too.

I think we are looking at a small picture, considering with a limited perspective how we are developing our leaders. We now live in a world where all of our people need to be continually learning and developing to remain employable, to remain relevant. Based on the 2023 Global CEO Survey, organisations also need to change the way they operate in the next decade in order to remain commercially viable.

The World Economic Forum is advising us that over 1 billion people in the global workforce need to be re-skilled by 2030. Roughly another 40% of the workforce will need to be up-skilled in the same period to keep them as valuable contributors to our organisations, in our workforces.

And what are the sorts of skills they need? Universal leadership skills. Keeping up with technology is not going to guarantee someone a job. (And it’s pretty hard to keep up with technology.) It is the skills of being able to work and collaborate with others, to be able to communicate concepts in situations that we can’t yet imagine, to be able to solve problems, to innovate in new circumstances. These are the skills that our people need in order to continue to participate in the working world.

Why is it that we are not growing leadership skills in all our people?

Nanette’s tagline is ‘leadership from day one.’ I think this is spot on. We need all our people to blossom into leaders, to give them every opportunity to not only be great leaders of self, but perhaps to expand into leadership of ideas, of other people, of programs of work, of causes, of change, of strategy, of the future. There are so many ways people can lead if we simply give them the opportunity to learn and grow and develop the skills and confidence. If we equip them to lead so they can contribute and make a difference.

Instead, this is what I am seeing today. People are being placed in leadership roles and are underprepared. As a consequence, they are struggling, stressed, and challenged to deliver to expectations.

What is your experience?

“I’ll bet most of the companies that are in life-or-death battles got into that kind of trouble because they didn’t pay enough attention to developing their leaders.” 

Wayne Calloway, former Chairman, Pepsico, Inc

The time for developing leaders is before the need arises. Succession planning is an everyday occurrence, not a stop gap measure. If you want to develop a robust leadership talent pipeline, develop leadership in all your people.  You are the CEO.  You are responsible.

I imagine we all want robust leadership talent pipelines. If you want leaders who have the right level of skill and have been exposed to leading in different scenarios and situations so they develop experience that they can apply to new situations and scenarios, you, as the leader of an organisation, a division, a team, need to sponsor this. You must advocate for this.

This must be a priority or the leadership gap will continue to grow. You will be faced, sooner or later, with an ‘emergency’ shortage of leaders.

Create a bigger vision of leadership, of leadership talent, of leadership pipeline opportunities. Expand your potential to create the future.

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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