4 Steps to Deepen Your Leadership Bench

It’s a challenging time to be a leader. In the public sector, members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) face many of the same issues as their nonprofit and private sector counterparts do—including the upcoming brain drain cited in a 2013 McKinsey & Company report created by a wave of retirements of career civil servants in coming years.

This creates a need to not only focus on the development of current government leaders—but those who are coming up in the ranks. In a recently published infographic, MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, and UNC Executive Development cite a number of data points related to leading and developing others—which is also one of the five executive core qualifications (ECQs) identified by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Here, we’ll take a look at what that means for changing the direction of executive development in the public sector.

ECQ 2: Leading People

The five ECQs are identified as those “needed to build a federal corporate culture that drives for results, serves customers, and builds successful teams within and outside the organization”—and competence in each is noted to be key to successful performance in the SES.

As noted in the definition for ECQ 2: “This core qualification involves the ability to lead people toward meeting the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to provide an inclusive workplace that fosters the development of others, facilitates cooperation and teamwork, and supports constructive resolution of conflicts.”

This “fostering the development of others” is key to identifying the next generation of leaders—many of whom will be millennials—and helping prepare them to step into leadership roles in coming years. It’s a key responsibility for current members of the SES and highlights the need to focus not only on the development of one’s own executive skills, but also those of future SES members.

Deepening the Leadership Bench

The federal government is one of the six knowledge-intensive industries expected to experience the upcoming brain drain most acutely. In the McKinsey & Company report, the authors note the need to change the direction of executive development in the public sector to help deepen the bench of those equipped to take the lead in coming years:

“Without a central authority responsible for talent development government-wide, each agency has created its own methods for managing up-and-coming executive talent, some more comprehensive than others. Most agencies have components of a talent pipeline, but those are often not integrated into a cohesive talent strategy. We found that senior agency leaders, the top political and career leaders, pay insufficient attention to identifying, developing, recruiting and selecting talent for the SES.”


Here are four steps the authors recommended to help you deepen the leadership bench in your organization:

  1. Define leadership needs. Engage in workforce planning to assess gaps in skills, capabilities and experience—and use leadership assessments to identify individuals with high potential and offer them opportunities to grow.
  2. Build the pipeline of future leaders. Once high-potential SES candidates are identified, begin to build a strong pipeline with formal training programs, on-the-job experience, and a variety of other learning opportunities from peers and mentors. In addition, be sure to extend beyond the organization’s walls—seeking talent from the private and nonprofit sectors, as well as other government agencies.
  3. Recruit and select from the candidate pool. Simplify the hiring process to help enlarge the candidate pool—with strategies such as making vacancy announcements more agency-specific and accepting resumes for the initial application.
  4. Assess and continuously improve leadership development programs. Use SES performance data as one method of doing this.

Although leadership in any sector offers a variety of challenges in today’s evolving business landscape, organizations that have adjusted the focus of executive development to deepen the leadership bench will be better prepared to handle them in the most effective manner.

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