Gregory Kesler
Global CEO Magazine, March 2004

For many companies, leadership bench strength and succession management – the availability of strong and deep pools of executive talent, able to assume a number of varied leadership roles at various levels — is a major business problem, which demands breakthrough change in the status quo. In a survey study in 2002 by the Center for Creative Leadership and Chief Executive magazine, 78.6 percent of CEOs indicated leadership development was either “the most” important or “one of the top five” factors in achieving competitive advantage (Center for Creative Leadership, 2002). A majority (61.6 percent) of CEOs cited succession planning as their top issue.

Succession planning is often an administrative tradition that absorbs management time, but has little impact on producing new results. Often, filling in replacement planning charts produces a false sense of accomplishment that may actually detract from actions that will produce a real change in leadership development.

While nearly three-fourths (73.4 percent) of CEOs in the CCL survey agreed that “their company’s culture supports learning and development, only 44.2 percent have created and communicated a leadership strategy. Only half (50.1 percent) said their organization has a shared understanding of what effective leadership looks like.”

The solution to the problem of executive talent development is a clear and sustained leadership agenda, owned by the CEO and his or her executive team. In addition to embracing effective tools and processes, senior leaders must adopt a mindset about talent in which:

  • Talent is a constant priority in decision-making.
  • Blocks of time appear on the management agenda continuously, not annually.
  • Difficult judgments are made that differentiate people regularly.
  • Development is not an off-line activity, but the result of placing talented people in the right stretch assignments, supported by effective bosses and coaches (and occasional education or training).

New results begin with new expectations. There are few results more important to shareholders of today’s large and small companies alike, than the next generation of leaders who will guide the enterprise forward.

An effective leadership agenda for building that talent mindset includes the following four elements:

  1. A Vision
  2. Clear objectives and priorities
  3. A culture that grows leaders
  4. A robust set of practices

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