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How to Identify and Accelerate the Right Leadership

A lot of businesses are experiencing a leadership shortage. CEOs need a strong leadership pipeline to thrive, but it's not easy to build. In fact, perceptions of leadership effectiveness and readiness often differ between executives and the frontline. The added risk and costs that result from this misalignment are cringeworthy. Whether due to unclear expectations or a lack of talent visibility across the organization, a disparity of perceptions is dangerous. Leadership development investments don't have to be a big gamble. You need to understand the challenges leaders face, what it takes for leaders to be successful, and use a high-quality systemic approach. Here are a few proven ways to do just that.

Why You Need a Strong Leadership Pipeline?

Leading in a fast-paced and crisis-driven market is no easy feat. Today's senior leaders are concerned about the quality of their leaders and the complexity of the new challenges they are facing.

It turns out that these concerns are justified. Alarming data from a new global study reveals that only 14% of leaders across all levels indicate they are confident with hiring decisions. Also, only 11% of CEOs rate their organization as having a strong bench of ready-now leaders.

Having the right leadership in the right place at the right time is vital to navigating the volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace. Good leadership can make a success out of a weak plan, and ineffective leadership can destroy a business with a great strategic plan.

Great leaders achieve great results. A review of the published research reveals that leadership effectiveness makes a difference in the leader's life, those they lead, business performance, and communities. The best organizations are made up of the best leaders. In a controlled study involving leaders across different industries, researchers found a significant link between the leader's effectiveness and employee retention, sales, margin, labor costs, and net profit.

How Can You Identify the Right Leadership?

A critical first step toward building a strong leadership pipeline is to bring clarity to the confusion of leadership effectiveness and readiness perceptions. While defining rating scales for performance and potential are helpful to gaining consistency, alone, they are not sufficient.

Fair and robust talent calibration meetings present a meaningful solution for identifying the right leadership. These meetings create an intentional space for leaders to discuss and align on the performance and potential of the talent in the leadership pipeline.

A talent calibration meeting is to review, assess, adjust, and agree upon a direct report's performance and potential within the organization and make development decisions. In large companies, these annual meetings typically involve the direct reports manager, the peers of the manager, the manager's leader, and a human resources business partner.

To resolve any existing misalignment and get the most value from a talent calibration meeting, leaders need to come prepared, resolve existing disparities in perceptions, and create psychological safety to discuss critical feedback.

  • Preparation: Ahead of the meeting, all leaders involved should solicit feedback and reflect on specific examples that support their point of view on a leader's performance, potential, and readiness to advance that is being reviewed. Everyone in the meeting should bring evidence to support their perspective. The leader of the direct report being reviewed should also identify the areas where the leader being reviewed should continue to develop.

  • Commitment: A critical factor that separates a successful talent calibration meeting from a waste of time is the shared will to have the robust discussion needed. If the conversation is fair and transparent, there will likely be productive conflict at times. The commitment of those in the meeting will determine the quality of the meeting. Before the meeting, it is helpful to discuss the purpose of the talent calibration meeting and why each person is being invited. Don't assume everyone knows.

  • Psychological Safety: Research has repeatedly suggested that businesses benefit from a diversity of thought. However, when meeting participants don't feel comfortable speaking up to share concerns or an alternate point of view, the quality of the discussion is minimized. Establish meeting ground rules before you get started. You want participants to know that silence is not golden and productive conflict is encouraged. How you position the meeting and what you say is essential, but how the team responds to the constructive conflict will determine if there is safety.

How Can You Accelerate Leadership Development?

Having a strong leadership pipeline is a talent magnet and competitive advantage. High-quality investments in leadership development motivate leaders, create a strong culture, and increase organizational commitment.

Many leadership development programs are missing the mark because they are event-driven. Leaders attend a workshop or conference and return to the workplace with little to show for their time out of the office.

Leadership development is best viewed as a system and not an event. You can accelerate talent development by rethinking your approach. Aligning the leader and organizational development readiness with high-quality coaching improves development outcomes.

Whether you think you can do a thing or not, you are right. ~Henry Ford

Development Readiness

Development readiness refers to the individual's and organization's ability, orientation, and motivation to develop. Leaders who want to learn and can focus on learning tend to view obstacles and challenges to their learning as the path to improvement. Organizations with a learning culture encourage leaders to seek new knowledge and apply new skills to improve continually.

A personal development readiness example. I love to SCUBA dive. If you offered the best free workshop on ancient literature, I wouldn't want to attend. I probably could learn something and might have a good time. But, if you offered a class on SCUBA diving, I likely would learn and enjoy it more. My development readiness in this example is more positively aligned with the SCUBA class. If you know, I need to learn about ancient literature. It will improve the learning outcomes of the class by working on my development readiness ahead of signing me up to attend.

Too often, with good intentions, leadership development programs get rolled out without considering development readiness. The good news is that you can positively affect development readiness and accelerate leadership development.

A great way to get started is by asking your leaders in your next one-to-one meeting to identify where there are opportunities to improve. The following categories can be used to guide the conversation and learn about their leadership development perceptions and experiences:

  • Assigning and providing opportunities to learn

  • Tolerating mistakes as a part of learning

  • Having high-performance expectations and accountability

  • Setting policies and practices that support leadership development

  • Leadership supports new ideas

  • Awareness of how leadership responsibilities fit into the big picture

  • Knowledge, skills, and abilities to lead

  • If leadership development is viewed positively

High-Quality Coaching

Deploying high-quality internal or external coaching extends development beyond the typical event-driven program that is often too narrowly focused on developing specific leadership skills.

Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires leaders to maximize their personal and professional potential. The coaching process unlocks sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership ability.

Current evidence-based research supports various psychological approaches to coaching. The GROW model is a popular approach. Given the ultimate goal of coaching is related to change within you, the model centers on using essential questions and client-centered critical thinking to invoke self-awareness and personal responsibility.

To make the best decision between internal and external coaching approaches, you will want to weigh the time, cost, and quality advantages and disadvantages. Some of the reasons why companies use external coaching are:

  1. External coach specialization and experience

  2. Lack of internal politics, conflicts, and competing priorities

  3. Enhanced confidentiality and the ability to work on sensitive issues

  4. Diverse perspectives of the coach

Internal coaching is often more cost-effective, but scalability can be a severe challenge for most companies. A 2019 study by Gartner revealed that 45% of leaders across all levels lack the confidence needed to coach direct reports. Leaders in the study indicated that they weren't confident in their coaching skills and lacked the required time.

Conclusion: Identifying and Accelerating the Right Leadership

Amidst the great resignation, identifying and accelerating the right leadership is a huge competitive advantage. Failing to address the misalignment of leadership perceptions between executives and the frontline and the use of event-driven approaches are barriers to building a strong leadership pipeline.

Working through misalignment that often exists across all levels of leaders requires a willingness to engage in productive conflict. A massive opportunity for accelerating leadership development is achieved by leveraging high-quality coaching aligned with organizational and leader's developmental readiness.

What's the real challenge you face with building a strong leadership pipeline?


Avolio, B. J., & Hannah, S. T. (2008). Developmental readiness: Accelerating leader development. Consulting Psychology Journal, 60(4), 331-347.

Gartner. (2019). Gartner says 45% of managers lack confidence to help employees develop the skills they need today.

Gurdjan, P., Haibeisen, T., & Lane, K. (2022). Why leadership development programs fail. McKinsey & Co.

Korn Ferry. (2022). The leadership shortage.

Rhyne, R. & Neal, S. (2021). Top CEO challenges 2021: 4 key trends in leadership. DDI.

International Coaching Federation. (2022). What is coaching?

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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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