What Is The Leadership Pipeline Model? The Leadership Pipeline Model In A Nutshell

The leadership pipeline model was first introduced by business analyst Walter R. Mahler during his time at General Electric in the 1970s. In his report entitled Critical Career Crossroads, Mahler suggested a shift in work values according to the various stages of an organization ensured leadership success.  The leadership pipeline model is a framework for identifying, developing, or recruiting leaders.

Understanding the leadership pipeline model

In the year 2000, Mahler’s ideas were developed further by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel in their book The Leadership Pipeline: How To Build The Leadership Powered Company. The expansion of the leadership pipeline model was underpinned by decades of consultancy experience, with the writers having worked with numerous Fortune 500 companies.

Ultimately, their objective was to develop a strategy organizations could use to nurture leadership. The result was a six-step model describing the major events every leader experiences, from junior positions to senior executives. The model also favors a strong internal leadership culture. Instead of the organization looking externally to recruit leaders, it is encouraged to develop strong leaders itself by moving candidates through the six-step process.

The six steps of the leadership pipeline model

As hinted at in the previous section, the six steps are designed to enable the individual to develop the competencies required for each successive stage. 

Let’s take a look at how this progression might play out below:

Step 1 – Managing self to managing others 

Employees in this first step are equipped with technical skills but not those required to manage others. Charan, Drotter, and Noel acknowledge the first step is the hardest because it requires a significant behavioral and value-based transformation. 

As a result, the emphasis here should be on teaching the basic functions of management. This encompasses time and resource management, planning and assigning work, and motivating and assessing subordinates. Crucially, the employee must shift their mindset from simply tolerating management to realizing its importance.

Step 2 – Managing others to leading managers

According to Charan, Drotter, and Noel, the second step is “the level where a company’s management foundation is constructed; level-two managers select and develop the people who will eventually become the company’s leaders.

Although it goes without saying, it is vital the business performs this step properly. Second-level managers must be able to separate themselves from tasks and focus on managing others. In other words, they must be able to assess and select suitable candidates for first-level roles. 

They must also be able to provide mentorship and coaching, with less reliance on processes.

Step 3 – Leading managers to functional manager

One of the key differences between a leading manager and a functional manager is the latter’s superior communication skills. Functional managers must also employ holistic thinking since they will be dealing with other managers from multiple departments.

Competency is measured by team-oriented working and the ability to successfully compete for finite resources while meeting operational needs. The functional manager must also devise strategies that help the organization gain a long-term competitive advantage

Step 4 – Functional manager to business manager

Business managers are required to make decisions under pressure and have increased autonomy in decision-making. The transition from functional manager to business manager is significant as the focus shifts from managing to leading. Indeed, the business manager must control and inspire multiple teams and connect with subordinates on an emotional level.

Furthermore, the business manager must be able to analyze past, current, and future performance to maintain efficient operations under financial and other constraints. 

For some individuals, there can be friction at this point. Business managers must be able to trust and receive advice or feedback from functional managers – especially when they have little knowledge of the function in question.

Step 5 – Business manager to group manager

Primarily, the role of a group manager is to support and encourage other managers to succeed.

This requires four key skills:

  1. Strategy formation – with an emphasis on appropriate capital allocation and deployment.
  2. Talent identification – or a track record of identifying and supporting the right managerial talent.
  3. Business needs identification – the ability to identify the broader business needs likely to result in expansion and growth. By extension, group managers must be able to recognize parts of the business no longer contributing to success.
  4. Self-actualization – in the context of the leadership pipeline model, this means developing an integrative management approach by using the broadest scope possible.

Step 6 – Group manager to enterprise manager

From this point onward, leaders must understand the values underpinning management strategy and success. While enterprise managers consider short-term functioning to some extent, the overarching goal should involve long-term visionary thinking. 

This means enterprise managers can sense the way forward for a company – even if it is less apparent or invisible to others. They must also be able to communicate this vision and encourage buy-in across the organization. 

Key takeaways:

  • The leadership pipeline model is a framework for identifying, developing, or recruiting leaders developed by Walter R. Mahler in the 1970s.
  • Some decades later, the leadership pipeline model was developed further based on the vast consultancy experience of Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel. Together, they developed a framework to help organizations develop a strong internal leadership culture.
  • The leadership pipeline model has six stages that explain the progression from a junior employee to an enterprise manager. Each helps the individual develop competencies vital to succeeding at high levels of management.

Types Of Leadership

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

Main Free Guides:

$200 Off Library
No prize
Next time
$300 Off BMI Course
50% Off Flagship Book
No Prize
No luck today
Unlucky :(
No prize
Get your chance to win a prize!
I have read and agree to the Privacy Policy
Scroll to Top