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Building a pipeline of leadership talent

Identifying, developing and retaining leadership talent is vital to a long-term health and success of any business. Businesses are built by people and it is great talent that gives businesses a competitive advantage.

Leadership development starts with understanding the individual and their developmental needs, as they change over the course of their career. It is every leader’s responsibility to develop the next generation of leaders through coaching, mentoring and growth opportunities, building a work environment that creates a sense of ownership, involvement and accelerates learning and development.

By focusing on leaders at all levels, businesses can create a clear link between individual contributions and the overall strategy and develop critical skills that will enable them to achieve their organisational objectives. Successful businesses bridge the gap between learning and real work, ensuring leadership excellence across all functions, levels and locations by balancing attention to high potential talent with effective processes.

The succession gap

Each year about 10% to 15% of corporations must appoint a new CEO, whether because of executives’ retirement, resignation, dismissal, or ill health. Yet, most organisations are unprepared to replace their chief executives. The failure to plan for CEO transitions has a high cost – a study of the world’s 2,500 largest public companies shows that companies that scramble to find replacements for departing CEOs forgo an average of $1.8 billion in shareholder value.

A departure of a senior executive often leads to a reactive replacement, divorced from the standard system of leadership development and talent management. This approach brings significant risks, including financial loss, companies gaining a damaging reputation for not developing their management ranks and high potential talent being overlooked.

The transition to a senior leadership position is demanding, especially when it comes to leapfrog leaders, who skip levels when they step up to a senior leadership position, with 61% of executives being unable to meet the strategic challenges they face in their new role.

Leading future leaders

Leaders have a powerful influence on their teams as role models and through their working relationships. Most of our learning occurs at work, however many organisations see learning and development as something extra they offer to their employees on top of their regular work. However, it’s not only formal training, but day to day interventions that shape our professional lives – adaptive learning from our mentors, colleagues and peers are all critical elements in our learning journey.

A successful learning environment celebrates growth and recognises employees when they make progress on a new initiative, even if they don’t hit the end goal. Leaders can create an environment of growth for their teams by demonstrating their own commitment to growth - by talking about learning and development in a positive way, setting the tone that encourages people to try new behaviours and adopt new skills. Learning can also be supported by not hiding failures, as this creates an environment that encourages transparency and allows for teams to discuss issues without blame.

Due to the workload and time pressures, coaching is often pushed to the bottom of the to-do lists for many leaders – however time limitations shouldn’t impact the quality of the developmental conversations. Coaching should be about understanding the employees’ aspirations and the skills needed to develop in that direction. Leaders should open the conversations up to the team and encourage colleagues to coach each other, pointing out people have specific skills that others could benefit from learning and therefore connecting colleagues across the organisation, so that they can learn skills that they wouldn’t be able to learn from their own team members.

In today’s uncertain, volatile and complex business environment the need to equip leaders at all levels with leadership skills and build a pipeline of leadership talent has never been more important. At Acumen we have over 18 years’ experience designing and delivering leadership development programmes that help organisations and individuals solve real life challenges and succeed. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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