Current leaders are best positioned to develop future leaders

Your company’s long-term strategic advantage relies on strong leadership at all levels. But as veteran baby boomer leaders retire, you’re losing decades of priceless leadership experience. In CLG’s recent study of 54 large corporations across seven industries, a majority cited leadership talent pipeline gaps as a critical issue. Many chief human resources officers and global talent executives acknowledge they’re lagging in this area, and it is hurting them.

Gen Xers have patiently waited to assume leadership, and behind them a tidal wave of potential millennial leaders is swelling. So, the challenge is to accelerate upcoming talent development. HR departments are rushing to do so, but many organizations have a five-to-seven-year leadership development time frame, and companies can’t wait that long.

Fortunately, you already possess your “secret weapon” for developing leadership talent: your current leaders. They have direct knowledge of what is needed for the job. They are available daily. They interact with high-potentials throughout their progression. They already track performance and coach individuals with in-the-moment feedback. This places these experienced leaders in an optimal position to help HR and the organization develop talent, in place, right now. It is the coaching, feedback, and learning opportunities they create that can accelerate development of emerging leaders.

A study of HR professionals at 20 leading international corporations confirmed that the most successful organizations make “development of leaders” central in their culture, and take concrete steps to align their leaders’ behaviors to support the talent pipeline. Competitive advantage doesn’t just come from best practices and standard talent management. True competitive advantage comes:

  • When leaders are selected not only for their technical skills, but also for their ability to grow the next generation of leaders.
  • When observing and coaching others is made a core part of each leader’s role, and observing and coaching is rewarded.
  • When leaders are held accountable for identifying and developing talent.

Leaders at every level can — and must — drive leadership development, because it’s not just a staffing issue. It’s about having the right leaders in place to execute strategy. When new leaders are ill-prepared, their teams suffer poor focus and misalignment, and execution falters.

Unfortunately, leaders often struggle with observing, coaching and supporting emerging leaders, which creates inconsistency in how effectively they develop their direct reports. Some leaders don’t realize it is part of their job. Some lack the skills or awareness of how to do it. Many need to be shown what specifically to do — what their behaviors must be. HR plays a critical role in assisting with the effort.

Leaders who excel at talent development leverage five critical capabilities:

  1. Strategic talent mindset — they’re naturally focused on strategic talent.
  2. Talent identification — they’re good at spotting leadership talent.
  3. Creating development opportunities — they proactively seek/create opportunities that stretch the emerging leader’s capacity.
  4. Coaching skills — they provide feedback and guide emerging leaders through key learning experiences.
  5. Interpersonal awareness — they listen well and understand what drives the emerging leaders.

An example

Here is a remarkable case from CLG’s experience, where we assisted a dynamic new CHRO in a $2 billion financial services organization. She inherited a weak talent pipeline with a very low percentage of positions filled internally. This meant external hires, many of whom failed to integrate, costing the company productivity and high recruiting fees.

What caused the company’s pipeline breakdown?

  • Leaders didn’t understand that developing talent was a critical accountability of theirs. They focused on delivering results and expected people to somehow develop themselves.
  • What development did occur, happened in silos. So, when they needed enterprise-level thinking, there were few internal candidates.
  • Most importantly, the five critical capabilities needed for leaders to be good talent developers were often missing.

The CHRO and her team ensured that existing leaders possessed the five critical capabilities to build a real pipeline of leadership talent.

They quickly implemented a program that developed existing leaders’ capacity to become primary talent spotters and developers, to create development opportunities, to use a powerful coaching feedback tool, and to receive training in interpersonal awareness. Here are the before/after percentages for internal promotions, which increased dramatically:

Internal replacement success
  Before End of year three
C-Suite 0 percent 80 percent
Vice president 29 percent 90 percent
Director 43 percent 85 percent
Manager 69 percent 90 percent


What you can do.

With HR’s help, all leaders can improve their skill in the five critical capabilities, and thus improve their ability to develop upcoming leaders. Start by answering three questions:

1: What is the status of your leadership pipeline? (retirements, available candidates, talent strategy and development, succession plans)

2: Is senior leadership aligned and bought in? (Do they care deeply about talent development?)

3: Are key organizational levers aligned to create a culture that accelerates leadership development? (We use a proprietary analysis tool, DCOM®— Direction, Competence, Opportunity, Motivation — to assess the quality of these four elements. All must be robust to assure real performance. If any is missing or weak, your organization will be seriously handicapped.)

Organizations need solutions — now — to address the gaps in their leadership pipelines. Unleashing the power of “leaders developing other leaders” can multiply the efforts of HR and talent professionals exponentially. Ultimately, this is just good business.

For more, download the free whitepaper, “HR Creates Competitive Advantage by Helping Leaders Become Developers of Talent.”



Kim Huggins is a partner at CLG. She is a nationally recognized consultant, speaker and author in the areas of leadership and understanding the generations. Her book, “GENerate Performance! Unleashing the Power of a Multigenerational Workforce,” has been cited as an invaluable leadership tool for any business wanting to attract and retain talent. She has a passion for and experience in generational diversity, change execution, leadership development/coaching, organizational development, employee engagement and cultures of innovation.

Michael Cannon, Ph.D., is a senior associate consultant at CLG. He utilizes evidence-based approaches and a keen strategic outlook to help organizations make real, sustainable change happen. His expertise in psychology and human behavior enables him to understand individual and team strengths and to pinpoint the best opportunities to improve performance. He has also trained hundreds of leaders across North America, helping them improve their leadership presence and to develop coaching and feedback skills to manage their teams’ performance more effectively.