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Five easy ways to fill your company’s leadership pipeline

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By Bridget McCrea

Leadership development, which often goes hand-in-hand with succession planning, ensures that individuals are identified and prepared to replace key players as their terms expire, for whatever reason. When done right, this planning helps to guarantee the continuity of skills, leadership, knowledge, and vision within the organization – at both the leadership and the employee level.

Related story: 7 do’s and don’ts of succession planning 

“If you’re building your distributorship to be bigger than yourself, and that will continue to grow and have an impact on the industry,” says Rob Fisher, vice president of marketing at Madison Electric Products in Bedford Heights, Ohio, “then you owe it to yourself and to your firm to establish a chain of leadership that supports those goals.”

Fisher, who writes and speaks often on the topic of leadership development, says the process itself shouldn’t be difficult or time-consuming, but it does need to have a definitive starting point. “One of the best steps you can take is to just get a plan of action down in writing,” Fisher advises. “When you do that the whole idea of leadership development becomes more actionable.”

Step-by-Step

A part of leadership development involves understanding the organization’s long-term goals and objectives, identifying the workforce’s developmental needs (such as training), and figuring out longer-term workforce trends and predictions. Companies that take this 3-pronged approach generally wind up with employees who are ready for new leadership roles as the need arises.

The problem is that most companies tend to ignore succession planning, and instead use a “seat of the pants” approach to preparing for the future. To avoid that trap, try implementing the following five steps into your distributorship’s leadership development plan:

  1. Don’t wait until the corner-office seats are empty. Busy with the day-to-day stresses of running a distributorship, many owners and leaders wait until it’s too late to start identifying and cultivating managers who can take over the reins when called upon. This reactionary approach can leave a company in the lurch when a leader unexpectedly leaves – or, when a pending departure is ignored until the last minute. Failure to maintain an adequate pipeline of potential leaders can be costly and painful in such situations, and can leave your firm scrambling to find replacements.
  2. Clearly define “leadership” for your organization. Who are the company’s leaders right now? What skills and expertise do they bring to the table? How important are these qualities to the organization itself? Use the answers to these questions to determine the types of candidates that you want to introduce to the leadership structure – and also to weed out those individuals that may not fit well with the company’s definition of “leaders.”
  3. Match roles with skill sets and abilities. Jay Rifenbary, president of   Rifenbary Training and Development in Saratoga Springs, NY, says distributors should consider the specific roles that the new leaders will occupy. “Don’t try to put a creative person – who should be in marketing or sales – in charge of the accounting department,” says Rifenbary. “Instead, look for someone who is analytical and numbers-oriented to head up that segment of your business.”
  4. Dig deeper than just the interviews and resumes. “One of the biggest obstacles to good leadership development happens when potential leaders are hired based on interviews, resumes, and recommendations, rather than looking at their individual visions and goals,” says Fisher. “You want to make sure those qualities are aligned with the company and that both share a common world vision.”
  5. Make current leaders into advocates. The “front line” for any distributorship’s leadership development program is made up of the current leaders themselves. These managers, owners, presidents, and/or vice presidents must become “champions” of their firms’ leadership cultivation activities. It’s also important that these champions realize that homegrown talent isn’t the only option – many good corporate leaders are hired from the outside.

Remember that good leadership development doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long-term process that can take at least five to 10 years to fully develop and hone.  Be assured that putting the time and effort into ongoing leadership development does pay off. “Distributors that make the investment in leadership development today, rather than waiting until it becomes critical,” says Rifenbary, “are the ones that are more productive, efficient, and profitable in the future.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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