Leading People – Assembling a Leadership Pipeline

Not unlike the assembly of water, sewer, or electrical cable pipeline, creating a clear path for growth for one’s team to follow has tremendous value. The process is not easy, but has more similarities to the construction of a physical pipeline than one might think. Once assembled, the development of needed skills becomes more fluid, through which a charged learning current travels quickly, and the transition going from front line employee to leader follows the smooth curve of a sanitary tee. Not often compared to physical piping assembly, this kind of pipeline is referred to instead as succession planning or promotion transition. If not handled well, planned and laid out strategically, promotions become events for which someone is much needed, but no one is well prepared. There is a
solution to prevent this problem and the following three steps will make all the difference.

Determine Depth
Whether a client has requested metrics on the depth of other cables or underground utility work commences on fresh earth, depth of the pipes and cables must be determined. The same is true for team members. In order to develop employee skills to the level needed to be the next leader on, or of, the team, one must determine to what depth development is needed. Assess team members and their current skill sets. What is done well? What comes naturally? What behavior needs to be developed, untrained, or stopped immediately? Through the initial assessment of skill sets present and skill sets needed, a foundation is created upon which the entire structure development will rest. Conduct the assessment, answer the questions and then let the learning begin.

Reverse Reducers
In the case of PVC pipe and others, to connect a larger pipe to a smaller one, use of a reducer is suggested. In the case of growing the leadership skills of future team leaders, one wants to increase their knowledge, not reduce it. Avoid shrinking their knowledge base and reverse the direction of the metaphorical pipe size change. Have employees go from knowing little to learning a lot. Fill their brain with as much as they can handle. How much do they know about motivating people? How much do they know about handling conflict? What is their current knowledge of communication, teamwork, and emotional intelligence? How would they handle hiring, firing, and coaching? What are the essential policies each leader in the company must know to do right by team members
and steer clear of liability? The answer to these questions will determine what knowledge and training resources are needed to develop this future leader. These questions and what is done to answer them will begin a progressive flow of learning that builds momentum and keeps future promotables engaged in learning what it takes to be a leader in this company.

Pressure Test
A lesser common practice among people, pressure testing so to speak, would include case studies, stretch assignments and skill practice with the potential to lead to mastery. Much as one might test a line to remove air pockets, find leaks, or locate that dreaded root, people are subject to have missing intel and barriers, too. Before promoting a person and standing them front and center on the firing line of leadership, consider giving them an opportunity first to prove themselves and practice. Whether one has them sit in on tough conversations, conduct ride-alongs with higher level team members, or perform a project lead position with limited authority and autonomy, a variety of learning options will improve both their skills and their confidence. The goal, of course, being to ensure the pipeline is solid and able to be used without constant leak checking and supervision.

The play on words here is powerful and creates an easy visual for leaders to follow, even when leading people and not literal pipeline systems. And because every organization needs a succession planning pipeline for long-term growth and sustainability, ignoring this type of process can be disastrous. Waiting until there is an opening in leadership to prepare a team member to fill it is like waiting for the main line to break before addressing a tiny crack or split. Don’t fall into this trap and wait until it’s too late. Leaders who are promoted, but not prepared, are far too common. However, by using these three steps, this mistake can be easily prevented and you can keep the team and the business flowing.

Monica Wofford, CSP is a keynote speaker and leadership development specialist. Through her firm Contagious Companies, she and her team train managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared. To learn more, go to www.ContagiousCompanies.com. You can also reach Monica directly at 1-866-382-0121.

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