Is your organization doing a good job of developing its leadership pipeline?

Leadership-development opportunities start with entry-level supervision roles, and a recent study suggests that most companies are shortsighted in their development strategies. According to study sponsors DDI, HR.com and the Institute, only 18% of companies surveyed said they had a strong bench of frontline leaders who would be ready to assume senior leadership roles.

Richard Wellins of DDI says, “In today’s business climate, these findings paint a dismal picture for the pipeline of future leadership talent that organizations need to survive and thrive. And that pipeline will shrink dramatically if high performers are being turned into disillusioned failures.”

Indeed, disillusionment can dry up a pipeline. But there is an antidote. Years of interactions with people in senior leadership roles has taught me this: when it comes to talent development, the best leaders take the long view. Not only are they fostering professional development for today, but they are investing in employees’ potential for future roles — regardless of where that role resides.

That’s right. The best leaders — the kind who win awards like “most engaged team in the company” — are willing to development talent even if it means losing that talent to another department – or even a competitor. They don’t wonder what will happen if they invest in a person and then she leaves. Instead, these leaders work every day to offer informal and formal development opportunities, confident that an employee who grows can add even more value to the organization.

Leaders with this mindset gain the reputation of being great to work for and are able to attract talent from the get-go, meaning fewer “problem children” on their staff. There’s an added psychological boost for leaders that comes from operating from a mindset of abundance rather than fear; they are always looking towards a positive, growth-oriented future rather than hoarding their talent.

Rather than thinking, “I can’t afford to lose Jane to a competitor,” the leader with the long view says, “I know that when the time comes for Jane to move on, I’ll help her. And then I’ll work on finding someone equally as talented to replace her.”

Are you skeptical? Do you think that it’s unrealistic for a leader to be that altruistic? I offer you three examples of leaders whom I’ve observed work in this exact way:

  • Susan reported to Tina at a Fortune 500 company. When Susan felt the itch to resign and start her own business, she felt comfortable sharing her plans with her manager. Together, they formulated an exit strategy that minimized the disruption to Tina’s department.
  • Henry is a vice president for a large multinational manufacturing firm. He’s been known to pay for career coaching services for his high-potential employees seeking promotions that will help them land jobs outside of Henry’s department.
  • Catryse, a vice president of human resources, has this guideline when hiring her staff: “I gladly hire someone who is overqualified for a position, and no, I don’t worry if he or she will leave in six months. I’d rather have top talent for six months than mediocre talent that hangs on for six years.”

Leaders with an abundance mentality don’t let concerns about losing strong talent drive their leadership development practices. Instead, they provide ample ways for their team members to grow. Even if it ultimately means filling someone else’s talent pipeline, they are secure in the knowledge that taking a long view of leadership development benefits their team and, ultimately, their organization.

Jennifer V. Miller, managing partner of SkillSource, helps midcareer professionals strategize their next big “leap.” She is the co-author of “The Character-Based Leader,” blogs at The People Equation and tweets @JenniferVMiller.

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One Response to “Are you a leadership-talent hoarder?”

  1. Jennifer V. Miller says:

    Definitely a red flag. Thanks for sharing.