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3 Quick And Easy Ways To Build A Healthy Leadership Pipeline

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

"What's your main concern long-term for your organization?"

"...Our leadership pipeline."

I can't tell you how often this comes up. Leadership pipeline isn't important until it becomes all important and a lack of leadership pipeline can sink a successful organization or team quicker than nearly anything else.

I remember chatting with a leader recently who was on an executive team of a multi-national company in Europe.

We were discussing leadership pipeline and when I asked about their organization, what they said shocked me.

"Any of our executive team could step up to succeed our CEO down the track. But most of us will probably step into other CEO roles first."

I was surprised because I almost never hear this. They went on to explain how intentional their organization is about raising up leaders and investing in them so they can succeed.

As Richard Branson says,

"Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to."

That quote is at the heart of a healthy leadership pipeline. But how exactly do you build a healthy leadership pipeline? Here are three quick and easy ways to start the journey for your team or organization.

1. Identify who could replace you

Bad news. If you're insecure about someone replacing you then you're limiting your impact as a leader.

Great leaders who leave legendary legacies don't lead like this. They do the opposite. They're always asking, "Who could replace me?" across everything they do.

When you ask this question, don't look just at skillset. Focus even more on who is humble, hungry and people smart (Pat Lencioni Ideal Team Player framework) and promote those people wherever possible even if they have some experience or skill gaps.

2. Have a vision conversation

A vision conversation is a specific, intentional conversation with an employee where you tell them what vision you see for their life.

We often assume everyone sees everything exactly how we see it. Not true. The number of times leaders don't have a vision conversation, assuming the person sees the same thing for themselves as they do for that person is staggering.

Try this out, I dare you!

Have a hallway conversation or book a coffee with one of your people and just speak over their life what you see them potentially doing. Don't overpromise anything, just share with them what you see.

This is incredibly meaningful for people and whenever leaders do this there's often tears in the other person's eyes because as human beings there's something significant about someone believing in you.

Here's a quick framework for a vision conversation:

- I'd love to catch up and chat about what you see in your future here as xyz company.

- Let me go first, I want to encourage you because I see how you're particularly gifted at x, y and z.

- As I've gotten to know you better, it's easy for me to imagine you one day doing x, leading y or even doing z because I believe you have that much potential as a leader.

- What do you see for yourself? Not just here, but down the track? I'd love to know so I can support you, invest in your career and invest in you as a person.


- ... Listen more.

3. Give them something small to watch

Leaders are often dumpers or holders. We either dump stuff on people and assume they know what we know and will automatically do what we do or we hold onto things assuming no one else could do it quite as well as we could.

In my experience, as busy leaders it's easy to move from one extreme to the other. Hold something for two years and then realise you absolutely have to delegate so then dump it on some poor soul.

Instead of dumping or holding, try giving someone something small to watch.

There's a great leadership framework called the square of delegated responsibility (that's what I call it, I didn't come up with it and can't find who to attribute so if you know please tell me so I can give honour where it's due!).

It walks through a square from top left, top right, bottom right to bottom left. Each point is a move up in delegated responsibility.

Top left - you watch, I do

Top right - you help, I do

Bottom right - you do, I help

Bottom left - you do, I watch

Can you see the genius in the square? Dumping is where we give them something to do but we don't even watch! Holding is where we do it and don't ever get them to watch.

Start instead by getting them to watch how you do something small. This is a great step towards delegation. Invite feedback from them but don't initially give them any responsibility over it. Then, when you sense they're ready, move over to getting them to help you, but you're still doing it.

Finally, be intentional and give them this task or project to do but tell them you will be there to help as much as they need. And as they get the hang of it, eventually tell them you love how they're doing it and want them to do it with just accountability to you.

Do these three things and you'll see a leadership pipeline start building up behind you and - hopefully - you'll create great problems where you have three brilliant leaders vying for one role.

Now THAT'S a legitimate problem very leader would love to have.

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