Seven Reasons Why You’re Losing Your Leadership Bench, and What to Do About It

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Seven Reasons Why You’re Losing Your Leadership Bench, and What to Do About It

For nearly three years, CEO’s (and other C-suite occupants) have been voicing mounting concern about the length and strength (or lack thereof) of their leadership bench. Following are a few thoughts about the underlying causes of those concerns, and what can be done about them.


1. Lack of developmental opportunity / assistance – They are on the bench (for now), but not in the game. You’ve invested neither time nor interest in them. There have been few, if any serious progress and career-pathing discussions, let alone follow-on action, leading to the conclusion that you don’t care, or that they don’t matter.
2. A fish out of water – They don’t fit the organization culturally. In many cases, they’ve been aware of it for some time, perhaps since their first week, and are only now working thru the denial, and/or the need to have a respectably long stay on their resume.

3. Perceived lack of purpose – They aren’t engaged by the mission. They ‘quit’ long ago, but are still showing up, going through the motions, getting paid, and taking up valuable space on the bench. This extracts a significant toll on those who work alongside them, not to mention people who might take their place.
4. Not unlike a “one and done” NCAA basketball player, they’ve been wearing your logo primarily for resume purposes.
5. They feel unable, by virtue of policies, micromanagement, systemic defect, lack of trust, etc. to do their best work.
6. They see no light at the end of the tunnel, no path to their desired destination.
7. Your employment practices are insufficiently supportive of working Moms and “graybeards”, many of whom would like to remain engaged.

What You Can Do About It:

  1. Pay more attention to the cultural fit of those you hire or promote into leadership positions, and make certain that they actually possess leadership skills in sufficient quantity.
  2. Adopt a more thoughtful and rigorous career pathing and coaching process that encourages honest dialogue about strengths, weaknesses, preferences and possibilities. Be willing to take the long view of the individual’s intended career arc, and how you can best support and play a part in it.
  3. Make it easier for people who have already ‘quit’ to leave.
  4. Pay careful attention to the developmental track record of mid-level and senior leaders. Are their people being actively developed and promoted, or not? If not, why not?
  5. Make it your business to communicate and constantly (as in daily) reinforce the organization’s mission and top priorities. Why daily? This message competes not only with the din of daily life, but the cynicism that much of our messaging evokes.
  6. Be on a relentless search to find and remove systemic impediments that keep people from doing their best work. Toward the end of every day, informally survey a few people as to whether or not they were able to do their best work that day. If the answer is “yes”, thank them. If “no”, find out what got in the way and resolve to fix it.
  7. Take a hard look at flexing employment and compensation practices in ways that would be supportive of both working Moms and those who are much later in life but still willing and able to contribute at a high level, albeit in a different capacity perhaps.

Your thoughts, as always, are invited and welcome.

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