An Overview of the Leadership Pipeline

“Leadership is…”


How many times have you heard or spoken these words? I’ve been studying leadership since I was a kid. I read all the time – often until 3 in the morning! The leader was always my hero in the story. Hardy Boys, The Dark is Rising, Horatio Hornblower, the History of Standard Oil, The One Minute Manager, 7 Principles of Highly Effective People, DNA leadership, Blink… I studied fictional characters and real people. Over my lifetime, I’ve checked out book after book on the subject, watched movie after movie. I was fascinated – obsessed perhaps. I just loved my heroes and pretended to be one every chance I could.

When I played childhood games, I organized the battles. When I was in high school, I was co-captain on my swim team and a letter-jacket-wearing member of the Varsity Leaders Club. When I was in college I was a tour guide, a student mentor, the president of my martial arts club, on the editorial staff of my college newspaper, and elected dorm president. When I joined the fire department, I was an executive officer. When I joined the Navy; I was valedictorian; assistant Master at Arms; Navy League award winner; drill team; “1 Delta” lead of Advanced Life Support units; CPR instructor, EMT instructor, ACLS instructor, PALS instructor, EVOC instructor… In the work force, I was a team lead, a Task Manager, a Project Manager, a Program Manager, Capture Manager, a Chief Information Officer, a Division Head, a Director, business Owner…

I followed titles, speeches, leadership opportunities of every size, shape, tune and texture. At some point, I crossed the line and couldn’t resist leadership if I wanted to. When I tried, leadership found me. The more I tried to avoid it, the more it found me.

Along the way, I stumbled, fumbled, and occasionally stuck my foot so far down my own throat I kicked myself in the butt from the inside. I mean – I seriously blew it many times – to the point of deserved embarrassment! I’ve also had great personal and interpersonal victories that I will remember for the rest of my life. I will share some of my key moments in another post or two.


One thing I learned is that Leadership is different for everyone and at every level. The situation, our own maturity, and the people we are asked to lead all have an impact on how we lead, how well we lead, and whether we can even call what we’re doing leadership – whether it is, in fact, leadership or not.


I started a discussion here on GovLoop in June of 2011 titled “What is the Role of a Leader in Government?” Truth be told, I was responding proactively to a comment I had read elsewhere where someone dismissed the idea of being a “figurehead” as a valid leadership role and focused instead on the “implementor/leader.” I didn’t believe this person was wrong. I just felt she was right from a limited perspective. At some levels of leadership, I believe, being a figurehead is pretty important.

The discussion revealed what I was hoping it would – that leadership has a great many facets. In this series of Blogs and Discussions, I hope to explore these facets in some detail. I hope to explore these with your help. My perspective is always a little rounder when other people add to it.


Over the years, I’ve struggled to find a framework that captures the total essence of leadership. Though I’ve never found a single book that covers all facets, I have found a few that handle certain things well. One of my absolute favorites for the work place is The Leadership Pipeline: How to build the Leadership Powered Company, by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel. I have the first edition, but I’ve linked you to the second edition – simply because it probably has more cool stuff inside. It also comes with a 2 minute summary video you can watch by clicking here.


Obviously, I won’t reproduce the entire book here on GovLoop, but I do plan to borrow from the framework as a way to hold the conversation together. There are other good books, to be sure, but this one is a personal favorite I’ve carried with me as a reference for years.

As a very high level summary, the book proposes that there are layers of leadership in organizations. It identifies the various layers, describes the layers, gives examples, and talks about what each layer is thinking about, what skills they need to be successful, and how they spend their time.

I will try to sprinkle in a little of my personal experiences with each layer as appropriate, and more importantly, I will ask the GovLoop community (you!) to explore these layers with me and help me to satisfy my passion for the subject. It is always fascinating, in my opinion, to discover what others have made out of their journey through the various levels of leadership.


Here are some posts that drill down into each step in the pipeline:

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Dave Bell

Great article. I fully agree. The most effective leadership style is almost always situational leadership. While consultative-collaborative is the de facto default for most effective leaders, when the building is on fire, autocratic leadership may be the preferred style. The situation dictates the most effective leadership style for the most effective leaders.

Paul Alberti

It is interesting we keep trying to define Leadership as one single action/function. Leadership is situational and personal – meaning people focused. People need different kinds of leadership at different times. Sometimes the best leadership is to just watch and listen and sometimes you need to manage the burning building.
I like the blog, and I will read the book. I have a home library with more books on leadership than I care to count and not one has a silver bullet answer. I look forward to seeing where this blog goes.

David Dejewski

Glad you like it, Paul. I’m going to try and split this series between Blog and Discussions. I’m hoping that Discussions will allow us to deeper dive in each level and give members a chance to share wisdom in real time.

Maybe you and Dave Bell can help with our first: Leadership Series: Tips for Managing Self

I’ll work up the ladder in the coming weeks to cover the other levels.

Mark Hammer

Following up on Dave’s comment, I think we make a mistake when we think of “leadership” as a role or as a personal quality. It is simply an action that co-ordinates the goal-directed behaviour of 2 or more people, with respect to the particular goal. That’s it. If it is an action or series of actions that supports the efficient and effective achievement of those goals, that’s better leadership.

We may come to think of someone as a “leader” or of a position as being one of “leader” if that person has, or undertakes, the responsibilty of co-ordinating the behaviour of 2 or more, but it is no more a personal quality or role than eating is. “Mark is a natural-born eater” sounds preposterous, because it is. Eating is “what you do when…”, and so is leading.

That is not to minimize the importance of the activity one little bit. Rather, the eternal conundrum about what it IS really only exists when you think of it as a role or personal trait, rather than simply an action. As Wittgenstein said, I’m just trying to show the fly the way out of the bottle.