4 Ways to Develop Your Leadership Bench


What could be more important to an agency’s enduring health than the selection and cultivation of its future leaders? There is a growing need within the public sector not only to develop current leaders, but also to accelerate the readiness of future leaders. To foster the development of the agency’s leaders of tomorrow, agencies need to build action plans to grow leadership bench strength today.

We’ve put together a list of some of the most effective ways to develop your leadership bench:

1. Define Leadership Needs

Developing bench strength is a key driver for succession planning and management. To build an effective federal corporate culture that drives results and fosters successful teams, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) lists executive core qualifications (ECQs) which bolster bench strength. Their top recommendations include defining your leadership needs and improving succession planning and management. Engaging in workforce planning helps to evaluate gaps in skills and experience, and leadership assessments help to identify individuals with high potential and provide them opportunities to grow.

2. Establish the Pipeline of Future Leaders

First, it’s important to note that leadership isn’t granted by the agency, it is given by followers—and must be earned. Furthermore, it is on the agency to find employees who have the capability to lead, and it is important that they have the right motivations. Instead of being motivated by personal gain, they are ideally motivated by the agency mission or a desire to develop others.

Then, the agency must shape those employees into leaders. The employees who are identified as potential future leaders are often call “high potential employees,” who are usually offered targeted training and development opportunities. This can be done by programmatically assessing leadership competencies and deploying high impact, targeted training.

Training opportunities cover three categories: formal training for technical knowledge; on-the-job development to exercise new skills in real situations and mentorship supervision to nurture new behaviors. The right balance of these courses with the right subject matter will contribute to the growth and success of future leaders in succession planning efforts.

3. Recruit From Outside the Organization 

An agency’s first priority is to develop a leadership pipeline from within. However, if the pipeline is not strong, agencies can consider hiring talent from outside the organization. According to the OPM, an essential qualification of an executive leader is the ability to lead people toward meeting the agency’s central mission, vision and goals. An enterprise HR solution can help you put the right person in the right job at the right time.

4. Assess and Improve Leadership Development Programs

As with any program,  leaders should establish and monitor objective metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). Continuous measurement helps to identify and replicate positive outcomes while more quickly examining and rectifying negative ones. While succession planning KPIs should be customized to each agency, some common metrics include: percent of strategic positions with a ready successor; size of the high potential talent pool or success of high potential achieving leadership positions.

On a team management level, leaders who provide ongoing feedback, as well as opportunities for employees to continuously grow their skills through training and development programs, will keep employees engaged and motivated to grow with your agency.

High-performing agencies not only have great talent but also know where their new leaders are coming from and how they will transfer through the ranks of the agency.

With a proper HR system and performance management program in place, agencies can cultivate leadership development and build a strong leadership bench. Lastly, federal agencies that adjust their executive development focus to deepen the leadership bench will be better prepared to handle today’s public-sector challenges effectively.

George Kettner is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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