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Corporate Team Building

The Leadership Pipeline

by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel

Does your company have a succession plan? From where will your future leaders emerge? If your organization is like most, not much has been done to ensure a continuous flow of high-quality leaders. In some cases, this may be a result of decreased employee/ employer loyalty. With turnover rates double what they were a decade ago, it can be difficult to plan for development if there is a belief that your company is just training leaders for other companies.

Many companies still rely on outmoded development methods and concepts to prepare their current and future leaders or they hire expensive stars who are then recruited away.

In this book, Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel show how to build leaders by understanding the critical passages a leader must navigate, by providing the appropriate development for navigating those passages, and by building the right system for ensuring a full pipeline of leaders now and in the future.

One of the first things I noticed as I read The Leadership Pipeline, is that the line between Managers and Leaders is disappearing. Past books harped on the distinctions between the two—some real and some semantic in nature. However, it’s neatly skirted once you understand that the seven manager roles comprise the leadership pipeline: managing self, managing others, managing managers, managing functions, managing business units, managing groups and managing enterprises.

“Businesses are full of intelligent, good-looking people from top schools who are failing because they don’t know how to get anything done,” the Pipeline authors argue. “Succession programs often place these people in leadership positions based on their potential—they look the part, they have the right pedigree, they impressed someone with their ideas and ability to articulate them.” Such people often don’t stay in one place long enough to learn from mistakes, master the right skills, or gain the experience they need for performance.

The right way to perpetuate an enterprise, they argue, is to fill the pipeline with people who can be drawn upon to fill the next leadership level up. The writers draw on their experience running training programs at General Electric and Citigroup, two companies known for leadership development.

This performance-based definition of potential turns the focus squarely on one’s ability to do the job at one’s current leadership level. Performance now becomes “the admission price” for future growth and development. The strategy permits few, if any, shortcuts. This is because the leadership hierarchy is not a series of undifferentiated steps that would allow the energetic junior executive to skip a couple of stops on the way to the top. Instead, each management level involves a major change in job requirements, time, allocation, and work values—all requiring new learning and demonstrated mastery.

In large, decentralized companies, the hierarchy may constitute as many as six such career passages, or bends, in the pipeline. These range from managing oneself as an individual contributor to managing a team, to managing managers, to managing a function, to managing a

The authors are critical of the fast-track career path. “The pipeline isn’t a straight tube but one with six 90-degree bends or turns,” they caution. “At each one of the bends, people need to slow down, reflect, learn, and develop.”

The “standards for judging performance” throughout the book are exceptionally helpful for anyone putting together a job description, performance evaluation or training initiatives.