Byron's Babbles

Leadership Farm Team Pipeline

Our Graphic by Mike Fleisch from the Leadership Pipeline Content

Could there be any more vital leadership task to a school, organization, or business’s long-term health than the choice and cultivation of its future leaders? I don’t think so! But, while organizations maintain meticulous lists of candidates and create spreadsheets of those who could at a moment’s notice step into the shoes of a key leadership position, an alarming number of newly minted leaders fail spectacularly, ill prepared to do the jobs for which they supposedly have been prepared. Developing a deep and enduring bench strength can only be accomplished by approaching succession planning as more than the mechanical process of updating a spreadsheet. I believe the organizations, including schools that do this best combine two practices: succession planning and leadership development. This creates a long-term process for developing the talent roster across their organizations. You could compare this to a minor league baseball team’s function, including the vital and fundamental goal: getting the right skills in the right place.

Let’s explore this minor league example for a minute, because it is a good one. The major league club’s player development goals must co-exist happily, and profitably I might add, with the local owners and operators of a minor league club. It is also important to note there are also some areas of shared responsibility between the major and minor league teams’ responsibility for player development. The major league team determines which 24 players will be on the minor league team. Again, the major league team makes all the decisions about who comes, goes and gets moved up through the system. Major league clubs keep close watch on their farm teams, sending scouts and front-office staff to watch games and keep stats on players; all of which contributes to the future progression of the players. A pretty intense development pipeline, don’t you think? Here’s the key though: players are developing while, well, playing the game. Novel and intuitive idea, but how many leadership development programs are done by watching PowerPoints? We must treat our leadership pipelines like a minor league baseball program.

Focused Leader Academy Team Illustration From Yesterday’s Discussion

Let’s dive just a little deeper into this minor league pipeline approach. Nearly every baseball player in the MLB started in the minors. Players start low and work their way up the ladder of minor league levels (sometimes skipping a level or two) until they get to the Major Leagues. The rate at which players advance can be vastly different in each case. Each team of the MLB has their own network of minor league teams (sometimes called “farm teams” or “farm leagues”) which are used for player development. Players start low and work their way up the ladder of minor league levels (sometimes skipping a level or two) until they get to the Major Leagues. The point is, these players have very individualized plans (what I call hyper-personalized) to get their skills developed to major league quality. Again, and remember, this is while actually playing the game in a highly competitive market. There have been a handful of players to skip the minors and go straight to the big leagues, but this is very, very rare. Only 2 players in the last 15 years have done it (Mike Leake in 2010 and Xavier Nady in 2000).

Focused Leader Academy Participants Designing & Building A Leadership Pipeline Model

Organizations, especially schools, need to learn from these minor league development “farms” and make sure they are growing their own in real time. We discussed this very point yesterday at our first session of our second cohort of our Focused Leader Academy. As you will recall, last year we started the Focused Leader Academy at the Hoosier Academies Network of Schools. This is an employee development and engagement program. The idea is that great minds and great motives still matter. Teachers with school leadership aspirations have the opportunity to become part of a cohort which will take part in monthly leadership training and be part of supervised leadership projects of the school. Cohort size is at least 15% of teacher leaders per year. The Vision is: Leadership will be born out of those who are affected by it. The Mission is: Leadership will appear anywhere and anytime it is needed. Our Theory of Action is: If we empower our teachers through leadership skill development…Then we will have teacher leaders ready to contribute to the success of Hoosier Academies Network of Schools and be an important part of our talent/leadership pipeline.
We all know that leaders grow leaders. This why I have taken it as my personal charge to develop, grow, and improve our Focused Leader Academy. As Matthew Paese, Audrey Smith, and William Byham stated in their latest book that launches next week, Leaders Ready Now: Accelerating Growth in a Faster World, “Everything you need to accelerate the growth of leadership is already inside your organization(2016, p. v). I am such a believer in this statement. I always say that context matters – and it does. This is why I believe organization’s need to make this work their personal responsibilities, not hire someone else to do it. How in the world could someone else know what the needs are? To do this we must push less-experienced leaders into broader, more formidable assignments. The whole premise behind our Focused Leader Projects. Additionally, I love task forces because these can become, in my opinion, what Paese et al. call Acceleration Pools© (2016). These experiences enable us to get leaders ready with real time development and coaching in the same way the minor league baseball teams do it I described earlier. Task forces and projects also give us the ability to deploy future leaders to key assignments. In fact, we recently lost a person in a key role and instead of filling immediately we put four teacher leaders in the role as what have become affectionately known as BAs (Byron Appointees).

Appointing BAs really turned out to be an incredibly successful move. By conquering difficult assignments, these teacher leaders have become ready to take on bigger leadership roles. I now plan to make BAs a common part of what we do along with our task forces, Focused Leader Academy, and Focused Leader Projects. Paese et al. also taught us, “The challenge is scaling this concept beyond isolated, reactive incidents and creating a repeatable dynamic that causes entire cadres of leaders to become ready” (2016, p. vii). This is why I, as the leader of our network of schools must take responsibility for this.

Finally, for this accelerated growth (Paese, et al., 2016) we must create an environment where our developing leaders experience fear, excitement, anxiety, and experimentation. For rapid growth we must create real time, real work experiences of:

  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Worry
  • Anticipation
  • Terror
  • Thrill
  • Anxiety
  • Experimentation
  • Risk
  • Possibility

These feelings then generate energy and accelerated learning (2016). Are you taking responsibility for your leadership pipeline farm team or leaving it to some off the shelf product or leaving it to some paid organization to do for you? I would suggest to you to take responsibility yourself and get the thrill and inspiration of this important leadership responsibility.


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