Leadership Pipeline: Complete Guide

Recruitment is often a long, tedious and expensive process. It is even more inconvenient when you did not anticipate the exit of a long-standing employee. This situation often places the organization in a crisis situation especially when the employee does not or is unable to give adequate departure notice for their department to re-organize. Let’s know the complete guide on Leadership Pipeline.

Leadership Pipeline: Complete Guide

The leadership pipeline is a combination of succession planning and leadership development. It is creating a “reservoir” of potential candidates from within the organization and having them on “standby” for abrupt internal promotion opportunities. It may very well be a contingency plan to avert a sudden operational crisis that may arise due to manpower deficits. In this article, we shall evaluate this concept.

Characteristics of Leadership Pipeline 


To implement this method the organization recruits and promotes employees from within their existing workforce. They start grooming and training potential and/or willing candidates for the leadership position before it is even vacant. The recruitment strategy used here is internal sourcing and not external sourcing where advertisements are sent to the general public. The employees learn of the vacancies or opportunities from within the organization.


This method emphasizes involvement from all team members. The planning and development involve all employees and not just senior management. Support from all stakeholders is essential to facilitate the smooth flow of operations and activities. 


Everyone in the organization should be made aware of the proposed changes so that the entire process is accepted and supported. There should be constant and clear communication with employees concerning the process. This requires clear organizational structures and proper communication channels. It should discourage any form of ambiguity.


It is important that the process is designed with simplicity and clarity in mind. This creates a level playing field for those interested in leadership roles. Supervision and guidance must be done frequently and repeatedly since learning is a continuous process. 


Regular measurement of the candidate’s progress is essential to ensure challenges are addressed or eliminated before they become complex or severe. Status reports must be prepared for reference purposes. 

Leadership Pipeline Levels 


Whether or not someone possesses leadership qualities is often evident at basic levels. The way you handle your personal issues and resources demonstrates to everyone the kind of leader that you will be in the future. By managing yourself well, your job performance will automatically be exemplary. This will make you an easy choice for upcoming opportunities in the organization.

Team Management

This refers to managing other people since you have proved that you are independent and can take care of yourself. In managing other people, there is an element of nurturing, assisting, guiding, and delegating. You are no longer doing things yourself. The idea is to train others to assist in duties and responsibilities. Your role is now supervisory and you oversee and rectify operations as the team undertakes them. This makes you value your colleagues and identify their importance in the organization. In addition, team members develop a sense of respect for you because they understand the need for your presence.

Leadership Management

As you rise up the rank, you start managing other leaders who have their own teams. Here, you provide targets, expectations, rewards, and recognition. These leaders are expected to be accountable for their actions and decisions. The idea is to ensure that their performance is optimal enough to achieve the overall corporate strategy.

Functional Management

This refers to departmental management. It involves the integration of both tactical and strategic plans. It requires a high level of communication, impeccable interpersonal skills, and an ability to prioritize decisions and actions. There needs to be coordination and monitoring of senior and mid-level management as they meet long-term and mid-term goals. The idea is to break down the strategic plan into measurable and actionable plans that can be pursued by each employee. 

Business Management

This refers to company management. By now, you are familiar with the culture and operations of the organization. You have a clear understanding of expectations from company directors, employees, and other stakeholders. Running a business involves  developing strategic plans and making sound business decisions. You also play an advisory role by providing appropriate proposals to the board of directors concerning various issues affecting the organization and industry.

Conglomerate Management

At this level, you are managing several companies or a group of companies. These companies could have similar or different business activities. The management process is now scaled up through mergers and acquisitions. In this role, you oversee the daily operations of several companies from the comfort of your office at the parent company or headquarters. Several chief officers are now answerable to you. Your main responsibility is to guide them. The business operations at this level are complex and diversified. Knowledge of different specialization areas and industries is of utmost importance. The goal is to nurture cohesiveness and implement standardization of operations in all of the subsidiaries.

Enterprise Management

At this level, you are managing portfolios and their related strategies. The business interactions focus on investment opportunities and sector investors. This also involves planning and coordinating large-scale plans and programs that are focused on attracting investors and widening the portfolio. Most activities are aimed at investment and risk management.

Importance of Leadership Pipeline 

Performance Gaps

Performance gaps are identified at an individual level to help in personal and professional development. During the grooming stages, selected candidates will demonstrate their strengths and weaknesses. Mitigation measures will be put in place to address their personal weaknesses before they are appointed to a particular role. This is aimed at reducing their rates of failure once they start working in their new position.

HR Planning

The HR department is able to forecast and predict the future workforce needs of the organization. This is in terms of the qualitative and quantitative attributes of the current workforce. The locate and fix gaps in the existing workforce before the situation becomes a crisis. This also helps in the proper allocation and utilization of resources. It also determines whether or not the current organizational structure is appropriate in achieving the strategic plan. If not, the HR department is better informed on which changes are necessary.

Simple Procedures

The leadership pipeline makes the internal recruitment and selection process easy. Talent is identified and nurtured in advance. Since the process is also transparent there is support from other employees. This allows the smooth running of the operations with less resistance and conflict.


The leadership pipeline ensures that there is an objective evaluation of candidates. Since the process is continuous and other employees participate in it, the performance of each candidate is easily determined and ranked. This guarantees transparency and accountability.

Skill Based

Numerous complaints have been received about performance appraisals. Employees perceive them to be oppressive since it is misused by supervisors. They pursue their personal interest and frustrate team members using this process. The leadership pipeline eliminates this challenge in performance management by focusing on actual skills instead of subjective and oppressive periodic. As a result, candidates are promoted on merit.

Prevents Mismatch 

We have observed cases where employees are promoted using unorthodox means merely because they are family or friends of the supervisors or leaders. They are neither qualified nor prepared for the role they have wrongfully acquired. It is evidently clear to other employees that the person is struggling in the role. In such a case, the unqualified employee will often burden their more qualified junior officer with complex assignments in order to take credit for the work and unjustly retain their positions. The leadership pipeline reduces if not totally eliminates these cases through the transparent selection and appointment of leaders on merit. 


This process reduces onboarding and training time after the appointment of the successful candidate. The candidate has been undergoing grooming all along and they have a proper grasp on the job expectations. They fully understand the operations of the organization since they have been long standing employees of the organization and not new recruit.

Staff Retention 

Employees will always prefer organizations that have growth opportunities. This enhances motivation and morale since they can anticipate future promotions. Whenever there are avenues for personal and professional development, the exit rates of employees reduce. This also enhances employee loyalty and integrity.

Effective Coaching 

With real-time results that are visible to everyone, we can easily gauge the impact of the training efforts, and individual performance is easily ranked. Whether or not a candidate understands the duties for a specific job is easily seen through the results produced. Their knowledge and skills are easily measured through actual practice.

Business Expansion

Through training and development, employees acquire relevant skills and knowledge. As a result, the company is better equipped to handle competitors and complex issues in their industry. Employees that can operate independently are valuable since they can be posted alone to various locations in order to set up shop in a new business environment. This widens the network and scope of the organization. This self-reliance also helps in the invention and innovation of new products and services that translate into profitability.

Limitations of Leadership Pipeline

Lack of Industry Knowledge

There are situations where the existing workforce is not adequately trained for their industry or sector. They may possess academic know-how but not the tactics required to overcome the harsh business environment. This is easily seen when organizations have mass recruitment of management trainees, right from universities who are not prepared for the harsh realities of being in employment and the efforts required to make a significant impact.

Lack of Work Experience 

Similar to the point above, the majority of the employees at a particular season in the life cycle of the organization may be new recruits. This group will require several years in their new job to truly understand their work and industry. The organization may be newly established hence the high number of freshers, it could be experiencing high staff turnover due to a variety of reasons or it could simply imply that they have never gone through any crisis in the past to give them adequate experience.

Poor Corporate Culture 

The organization could have bad practices that do not encourage personal and professional development. This may be due to a lack of resources for the implementation of the programs or the leadership lacks foresight. These organizations often have divisive politics and rampant favoritism. The leaders could be encouraging these tendencies for self-gain hence the practices are not about to end or change soon. 

Internal Conflicts 

With poor organizational culture, conflicts are prevalent in these toxic environments. No rules apply and every one pursues their own selfish interests as opposed to nurturing a team spirit. Since there are no clear structures, employees overstep each other in decision-making and duties. Those who are aggressive get their way than those who are qualified.

High Staff Turnover 

This breeds an unstable working practice in the organization. There is no continuity of operations since most of the employees are new. The frequency at which mistakes are made is high and rectifying them is expensive for the organization. There is a lack of knowledge and experience which is disastrous in strategic planning and risk management.

Bad Recruitment Strategies

This emanates from the poor organizational culture. It leads to the development of subjective strategies that are used to advance personal interests. You will find that external rather than internal sources of recruitment are used. This will hinder the implementation of the leadership pipeline. 

Poor Communication

Poor organizational culture leads to the existence of several other challenges including communication difficulties. It suppresses transparency and accountability in the organization. Activities are conducted in secrecy and promotion plans are never discussed in the open. This kind of information is restricted to the senior management who adapt the top-down leadership approach in order to advance their personal, instead of corporate interests. This eventually translates into high staff exits since there are no clear avenues of personal and professional development. Employee efforts are not recognized and they are rarely given promotion opportunities.

Lack of Passion

With bad leadership practices and oppressive corporate cultures, employees will restrict themselves to their comfort zone. They will not want to change their roles simply because it is risky and no support will be given to them. They would rather remain timid than lose their current jobs and source of income.

How to Improve Leadership Pipeline 


The reason the military excels in almost everything they do is that they have a high level of discipline and professionalism. Organizations need to develop and nurture this trait in all their leaders and employees. Discipline helps in keeping focus and improves performance levels. It also reduces conflict, enhances teamwork, and improves levels of respect among employees. There should be strict adherence to the professional code of conduct. Leaders and employees should be masters of themselves with extreme self-control.

Leadership Programs

Organizations should arrange periodic leadership development programs for the employees or selected candidates. This will impart new knowledge and skills necessary to become an effective and influential leader. These programs should be continuous to ensure that the employees remain focused.

In-service Training

Constant training should also continue on a daily basis as they perform their duties at the workplace. On-the-job training helps in the mastery of operational activities that are essential in leadership. 

Interdisciplinary Training 

Allow the employees to learn through exchange programs. This is where they experience activities from a different setup or department. For instance, employees from the HR department can spend time in the Finance department in order to experience the challenges they face while serving and learn a few of their concepts.


Sessions can also be arranged with other companies for the leaders to learn. Fieldwork visits to other industry players can add to their wealth of knowledge. They will discover new techniques in performing their duties that might not exist in their own organization.

Mentoring and Coaching 

Senior management and executive officers should act as mentors for these leaders or employees. They should share some of the skills and knowledge that cannot be obtained from an academic process. They should give them advice when dealing with conflicts or when they are faced with difficult situations. These tactics can only be gained from practical experiences which the mature executives have already acquired due to their long and diverse work history.

Monitoring and Evaluation 

Constant checking is necessary to establish the progress of candidates. They may experience challenges that they are afraid of readily sharing. Communicating with them constantly and requesting status reports can ease the tension and allow them to be more open. Whenever teams encounter failures, relevant people should give them prompt advice. This can include better working methods or proper utilization of resources.


The organization should have adequate resources to manage this process. External training programs are usually very costly but essential for the development of good leaders. In addition, hiring experts for advisory purposes the implementation process requires additional resources. This process may also require the acquisition of systems and equipment with the new plans set into motion. The organization should adequately plan for it and ensure that the budget accommodates all the requirements.

Implementing a Leadership Development Plan

Assess and Identify Talent

This is maybe similar to the head-hunting technique under the recruitment process. There are some employees who are more inclined to some roles than others. They have a natural talent to take on some duties and responsibilities even without professional training in that area. Their talent is visible when they sit in for their colleagues who are temporarily away. These are the people you want to engage and establish whether or not they are interested in personal and professional development opportunities.

Stakeholders Support 

An organization has both internal and external stakeholders. Our focus at this stage would be the internal stakeholders such as employees, supervisors, managers, and directors. You will need their support in order to reduce resistance and guarantee a smooth transition. Provide your perspective and justification for your preferences in advance.

Leadership Style 

There are several leadership styles in society and organizations. These include laissez-faire, autocratic, bureaucratic, and democratic, among others. Each of these styles has advantages and disadvantages which should be properly understood before selecting any of them. The type of business environment, resources, products, and services can also limit the organization to a specific style. Thus, it is essential that the most appropriate style for your organization and sector is carefully selected. 

Leadership Competencies 

Identify and assess the competencies required and those that already exist with your team members. Establish the gaps and identify appropriate techniques for filling them. Some of these competencies include authenticity, empathy, networking, and effective communication, among others. Leadership assessment tools can be incorporated to get the best results for decision making. Some of these tools include enneagram, Saville, and Gallups techniques, just to mention a few.

Develop the Plan

This involves having discussions with experts who will assist in the design of this leadership plan. These experts can include managers, heads of departments, and consultants. Each of them has an area of specialization and is able to give valuable planning input. The methods, resources, duration, and actionable people for the implementation of the plan need to be established. It is also advisable to have alternative courses of action alongside the main plan. 

Monitoring and Evaluation

Determine the success and failures of the implemented action. Successes are celebrated and enhanced. Failures are corrected and replaced with better alternatives. Review employee’s progress before, during, and after the implementation phase. This will establish whether or not they have attained the desired leadership status. Talk to all stakeholders including the candidates to establish their views on the process and progress.


The leadership pipeline is a complex undertaking that requires proper planning and methods for it to be successful. Stakeholders need to be selfless and supportive if the process is going to yield the desired results and candidates. There are a lot of factors that influence the success of this process and they must be addressed appropriately. The biggest stumbling block in the execution of the leadership pipeline is corporate culture. This affects various aspects of the organization and individual. Negative corporate cultures are opposing forces to this process and will lead to various challenges such as poor policies, staff exits, and apathy, just to mention a few. Hence, the starting point should be to identify whether or not the existing corporate culture can sustain the process. Research has shown that organizations with poor corporate culture are often stagnant and with low profitability. Though not easy to implement, the leadership pipeline will be of great benefit since the organization will resolve the recruitment crisis in the future. This process is ideally a deliberate and collective action from all the members of the organization.

Frequently Asked Questions 

  • What is the difference between succession planning and leadership development?

Succession planning is the course of action taken to hand over leadership to another person while leadership development is imparting knowledge and skills to enhance the leadership capabilities of employees.

  • What is the difference between personal development and professional development?

Personal development is concerned with improving your well-being while professional development is concerned with advancing your formal expertise.

  • What is the difference between competencies and skills? 

Competencies are mastered behaviors while skills are learned abilities.

Leadership Pipeline: Complete Guide

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top