The Leadership Pipeline
Summary: Every jump leadership seniority requires a transition in values, behaviours and skills. How should you spend your time?
Written by Alistair Gordon 02 Dec 2018

Image credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash


The leadership pipeline explains why we struggle when we change role, particularly in the early months of a promotion. Its lessons help you better understand and manage leadership transitions.

Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel in their book, The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company (Jossey Bass 2001), outline the various career transitions or ‘passages’ undertaken by leaders as they progress through their careers. The model they have devised, called the ‘leadership journey’, is highly recommended reading if you are interested in progressing your career through to senior leadership roles.

According to the leadership journey model, individual careers invariably start at the ‘managing self’ stage. This is where you are responsible for building your own skills and abilities so as to contribute to your organisation’s output. Examples of ‘managing self’ could be a financial planner, an engineer, a receptionist or an accountant, all roles where you are primarily responsible for your own contribution. A next step in your career journey, ‘manage others’ is where your focus broadens to ensuring that other people contribute effectively. Then you will progress to ‘managing managers’.

The diagram below acknowledges that in the real world, there is not necessarily a linear flow from one stage to another.

At each point in your career you will need to abandon the tasks and activities that made you successful, to allow you to focus your time and efforts on the new role. For example, a sales person promoted to sales manager is progressing from managing self to managing others. To do this successfully, he or she needs to work beyond personal sales activity to the training, motivation and direction of others for team achievements. Drotter and Charan call this ‘taking the turn’.


The key to successfully transitioning from one passage to another is learning to adapt. Each new leadership passage requires a transition in values, behaviours and skills. How you elect to spend your time is crucial.

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