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Three Surefire Steps to Creating an Effective Leadership Pipeline
David Lahey

Leadership development is perhaps one of the most difficult management strategies to implement. Our research with companies across Canada shows a strong correlation between a well-developed leadership strategy and a company’s ability to compete on a national or international stage. We have also documented that a weak connection between corporate leaders and employees is the leading cause of employee turnover. To solve this problem, organizations must first understand the barriers to effective leadership and how to address them.

David Lahey
Barriers to effective leadership

  • Managers view leadership as an added function rather than an integrated part of their role.
  • Employees are often promoted based on deliverables rather than their leadership abilities or achievements.
  • Leaders of other leaders are typically focused on developing functional capabilities rather than leadership capacity.

    To remove these three common barriers to leadership development, executives need to first identify leaders and start cultivating their skills. Finding employees with leadership potential at the early-career stage creates a chain reaction that ripples throughout the company. Building on employee success at one leadership level enhances the probability of success at the next level and establishes a sustainable leadership pipeline.

    To identify potential leaders, managers should rely on the behavioural analytics collected during the hiring process. The employee’s responses to behavioural questions point to how they will react in leadership situations. This information can be supplemented by analysis from tools designed specifically to assess the employee’s ability to lead. This leadership potential can be assessed through insights gleaned from three key areas:

    1. Assess each potential leader based on their core leadership competencies

    Leadership is a combination of innate ability and acquired skill. To be successful in today’s business environment, it is crucial that potential leaders have professional competence. Every leader should be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and be able to build a team that compensates for the areas in which they lack expertise.

    An effective way of measuring the core leadership competencies of potential leaders is developing a behavioural profile for the leadership position and matching leadership candidates with the role based on analytics. Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue Airways and founder of Peterson Partners, believes he can see into an employee’s core and assess their behaviours by repeatedly asking them “Why?” Each subsequent question allows him deeper insight into their thought processes and actions. Managers can gain further insight through employee self-analysis and seeking perspectives from direct managers and direct reports. This 360-degree analysis provides a comprehensive snapshot of the employee’s leadership competencies.

    2. Evaluating the leader’s potential for organizational advancement

    It is important to identify the type of leader in order to set a candidate up for success – leader of others, leader of leaders, functional leader or business leader. Leadership candidates should be placed in positions that will complement their behavioural drives. A leader in the right position and level of the company will be happy and energetic and their attitude will have a ripple effect throughout the firm. This creates the conditions for increased productivity. Great West Life (GWL) has done just this by leveraging behavioural analytics throughout the employee lifecycle – from hiring to identifying leaders and training them. This has helped GWL increase morale and employee performance at all levels of the organization.

    3. Customized feedback and targeted training of leaders

    A study conducted by Bersin & Associates showed that organizations that are dedicated to tailored and targeted training of leaders improve their business results by 21 percent. Leaders who use behavioural analytics to develop defined coaching objectives for their team will not only experience higher productivity, they will also improve morale and retain top talent.

    Michael Weening, vice president of a national telecom company, pledged to invest in results-oriented training and development upon taking on his new role. He used behavioural analytics to create a logarithm of the behaviours that drive his staff. Armed with this data, he was able to tailor a coaching-for-growth plan that helped his managers understand each employee’s perspective, and incorporate behavioural data insights into their coaching and training programs. As a result, many of Weening’s employees now refer to him as their ‘best boss.’

    Failure to create a defined leadership development strategy based on scientific analysis leads to workplace conflict, high employee turnover and lagging productivity. Don’t make this mistake. Follow in the footsteps of such companies as, Caterpillar and Microsoft, who set their employees up for success by establishing benchmarks based on behavioural analytics. They understand their teams’ strengths and weaknesses. They are then able to identify, train and move potential leaders to positions that will benefit the corporation’s culture and morale, and advance their company’s long-term business plan.

    David Lahey, MBA, is president of Predictive Success Corporation and the author of “Predicting Success: Evidence Based Strategies to Hire the Right People and Build the Best Team. Predictive Success leverages the Predictive Index to optimize organizational development. David can be reached at or 905-430-9788.

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