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Your Leadership Pipeline: Nothing Beats A Strong Bench!

Your Leadership Pipeline: Nothing Beats A Strong Bench!

March 21, 2012

By: Dr. Ritch K. Eich, PhD, author of Real Leaders Don’t Boss (Career Press, 2012)

As a young person, I played several sports. Like many of my generation, if I didn’t have a glove, bat or ball of some kind in my hand most of the time — whether it was a football, baseball, basketball or tetherball (and they were very rarely new!) — something felt amiss.

I was fortunate in that once I became involved in organized sports, I played a lot; I also confess to having spent some time getting splinters (in you know where!) from occasionally riding the bench.  Yet even that experience was valuable. 

As we got older, John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics became one of our heroes, as did his incomparable coach, Red Auerbach, for his skillful development and use of his bench. But my focus here is a slightly different type of bench.

The Leadership Pipeline
Most of us are familiar with such great American organizations as General Electric, IBM, Procter & Gamble, the US Marine Corps and Federal Express.

What makes these successful companies? They have long realized that in order to be successful year after year, they must consciously and continuously strengthen their leadership pipeline — and grow their pool of future leaders from within.

Unfortunately, many organizations of similar and even smaller size do not yet see the value of a CEO who sees his or her most critical role as that of a “teacher” or “mentor.”

The Urgency of Effective Leadership
We live in a world that is changing faster all the time. As such, it requires that we identify and develop effective leadership more rapidly.

To quote change expert John Kotter’s book, A Sense of Urgency (Harvard Business Review, 2008), “as we transition to a world where change is continuous — not episodic — urgency must become a core, sustained capability.” 

Our focus should be to take immediate steps to encourage senior leaders to act with this sense of urgency.

Our leaders should also be actively involved as advisers and counselors of younger talent at every level of their companies as mentors and expect their direct reports to do the same. 

For those executives who say, “I’d love to but I’m just too busy,” I encourage them to recall that legendary leader of General Electric, CEO Jack Welch, who probably spent more time on this one responsibility than any other during his long tenure.

It’s time for leaders to start teaching leadership.

Developing a Leader Pipeline
Two immediate and pragmatic actions must be undertaken in order to develop a leadership pipeline. 

First, business firms must commit to becoming “teaching” organizations, where a conscious pledge is made to teach managers how to become leaders.

The need for such resolute commitment should be obvious: presidents, CEOs and members of the leadership team who take time to train and guide their lieutenants ultimately experience more success in driving operating performance. 

Of equal benefit — employee retention is heightened while costs are lessened in organizations that effectively leverage the talent of their staffs. 

Another upside: Executives who instruct others often become great leaders themselves.

The Central Spoke of a Winning Company
The second requirement is for executives to deliberately develop a corporate culture and a leadership education structure that builds future leaders from within.

For many organizations, it often seems more expedient to hire young talent from “known” entities – such as top academic institutions (Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Chicago, Berkeley, etc.), stalwart companies (Boeing, Ritz Carlton, Apple, Southwest, Microsoft, etc.) or the military. 

Other companies spend precious capital to retain teams from top-shelf consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting, Booz & Company, AT Kearney and others. While doing so often leads to short-term success, such recruiting strategies rarely deliver lasting results and true business innovation. 

The central spoke of a winning organization should be internally-developed leaders who understand the company’s business strategy along with its culture, people who possess the internal credibility to drive insightful change and quality performance.

Today’s workplace suffers no shortage of so-called “leaders-in-waiting” — young people hoping to be identified, mentored, challenged and developed by senior leadership.

The problem is a company’s unwillingness to make the investment in people, both young and older.

Can you imagine if Fred Smith didn’t believe that the people of Fed Ex were the bedrock of their present and future business success?

As acclaimed management experts Noel Tichy and Eli Cohen have written in their book, The Leadership Engine (Collins, 2002), “the job of the leader has not changed. Enhancing the value of the assets and sustaining growth are still the ultimate goals. This is accomplished by developing others to be leaders at every level and getting them aligned and energized.”

We would do well to heed the admonition by renowned business philosopher Peter Drucker to “Be a teacher. Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.” [Source: Clover Quotes]

Can you think of a more profound legacy to leave your organization than a robust leadership pipeline?  

Author Bio
Dr. Ritch K. Eich
, PhD, author of Real Leaders Don't Boss (Career Press, 2012) is one of the leadership field's preeimnent experts. He has spent the last four decades studying the philosophies and fundamentals of true leaders. Eich has worked with or for a "who's who" of world leaders, from Howard Holmes (Jiffy Mix) to Tom Monaghan (Domino's Pizza founder) to Charles Walgreen, Jr. (Walgreen Drug Stores). He is founder and president of Eich Associated, a strategic branding, marketing, communication and management coaching firm.