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home | Sample Articles | 10 Steps for Creating a Reliable Pip . . .

10 Steps for Creating a Reliable Pipeline of Effective Team Leaders

Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center
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Just as you must analyze, recruit, develop, and replace your team's physical talent, so too must you continually analyze, recruit, develop, and replace your team's leadership talent.

Most coaches are familiar with the concept of the Depth Chart. For those who aren't, a Depth Chart is when you plug your personnel into the various positions you have; noting who the first string players are, their replacements, and any other backups you might have down to the third and fourth string.

Creating a Leadership Depth Chart helps you stay on top of your team by visually seeing your personnel strengths, weaknesses, and liabilities. If there is a hole in any position, you must proactively plan to shore it up should an injury or other problem occur.

Similarly in recruiting and drafting at the professional level, coaches must project ahead in the coming years to fill certain positions that will be lost to graduation or retirement. Complicating matters further, some college coaches must conjecture whether their athletes might be turning pro early (see Lawson example above) or taking off a season to play with the National Team.

Thus, a detailed Depth Chart is a necessity for both short and long term planning for a team to be successful.

While most coaches create and monitor a meticulous Positional Depth Chart for the physical skills and talent of their athletes, they often overlook a critical area to their team's success: leadership.

Many coaches unfortunately subscribe to what I call the "Magic Eight Ball Theory" of leadership development. This means they enter each season hoping that good leaders will magically appear by chance. Unfortunately, it is often too late at this point.

Just as you must analyze, recruit, develop, and replace your team's physical talent, so too must you continually analyze, recruit, develop, and replace your team's leadership talent.

This is where a Leadership Depth Chart can be a big help. Like a Positional Depth Chart, you too must analyze your team's leaders for the upcoming years. You must evaluate their leadership ability as well as their readiness to assume a leadership position.

As former Director of General Electric's Crotonville and current Michigan Business School professor Noel Tichy writes in The Cycle of Leadership, "A well-designed leadership pipeline, discipline, and commitment are absolutely essential in order for an organization to assure that it will have the leaders it needs when and where it needs them. Without a deliberate and formal pipeline structure, leadership development is only random. Some leaders will emerge, but their emergence will not be predictable, there will not be nearly enough of them, nor will they have the diversity and level of skills of those who have been systematically taught and tracked."


Here's how to create your own Leadership Depth Chart based on the ones we use with our Leadership Academies:

Step 1: Make six columns on a spreadsheet or piece of paper.

Step 2: In the first column titled, "Season," write in the years of your next four upcoming seasons.

For example, you would include the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons.

Step 3: Title the second column "Leaders."

Here you should put in the names of the people who you think will be your primary and secondary leaders for the particular year. These should include the people who you think will be your team captains. Also include the names of your potential core team leaders, even though you might not officially make them captains.

When doing this, I encourage you to think about the leadership skills of your best athletes - especially your most talented younger athletes. Typically, your best athletes already have a good amount of respect from their teammates based primarily on their physical talent. The other players often look to them for leadership because of their "status" on the team. Take advantage of the platform of respect they already have and be sure to invest some time in their leadership skills while they are still young.

Step 4: Title the third column "Readiness."

Using a 1-10 scale, rate each of your anticipated leaders. A "10" means they are fully ready and have the leadership skills necessary to step in and do a great job on Day 1. These leaders understand your philosophy, work hard every day, make great decisions away from the playing field, have developed effective relationships with each of their teammates, and are willing to confront and hold people accountable.

A "1" means this person has a lot of things to understand before they can become an effective leader. Obviously, not many "1" rated athletes will make your Depth Chart. Most of your ratings will likely be in the "4" through "8" range. This means most will need some more leadership development and coaching in order to be better prepared when you will eventually rely on them in upcoming seasons.

Like you did previously, be sure to rate the leadership readiness of your younger, more talented athletes. If they are deficient in the leadership area, you will have to make the decision whether you are going to invest the time to improve their leadership skills to bring them up to speed. (It is worth it if you can.) Or you might try to rely on some others for leadership who are less talented, but have a much stronger foundation of leadership. By projecting ahead three to four years, ideally, you should be able to do both.

Step 5: Title the fourth column "Strengths."

List the current strengths of each prospective leader and what they bring to the team. You will want to build on these strengths in the coming seasons as well as make sure the leader recognizes what he/she does well.

Step 6: Title the fifth column "Weaknesses."

Note the current weaknesses and areas of improvement for each of your leaders. What specific skills or insights do they need to gain to be a better leader for your team? Highlight their areas needing development.

You might also notice in this section that many of your potential leaders probably share similar deficiencies; typically in the areas of conflict management and enforcing the standards of your team. These common areas of development will help you with the last column.

Step 7: Title the sixth column "Development Plan."

Based on the leader's strengths and weaknesses, devise a customized development plan that will help them improve as a leader. You can assign them readings, have them shadow and interview a leader who excels in an area where they are weak, role play how to handle some challenging situations they will likely face, get them some 360-degree feedback on their leadership from their teammates and coaches (see link below), etc. Like you do when trying to develop a person physically, create some learning experiences that will help them grow as a leader.

360-Degree Feedback info at:

Step 8: Encourage your staff to sketch out their own Leadership Depth Chart.

Ask each of your staff members to create their own Leadership Depth Charts to get their perspectives. Then invest the time to discuss your findings and projections as a group. While you will likely agree on most prospective leaders, there will be times when a dark horse candidate is worth betting on. Further, your readiness ratings of your leaders will likely be somewhat different. Whatever the case, proactively analyzing and discussing your leadership depth will eventually payoff immeasurably and is worth the short time and effort.

Step 9: Personally and privately inform your "high potential" leaders that they have a chance to be a future team leader.

Let your high potential leaders know that you appreciate how they carry themselves and that you think they have the chance to be a future team leaders. Hearing from a coach that they are respected and have the potential to be a future team leader is a huge boost of confidence for most athletes. Many will rise to the occasion and do their best to prove you right. They will do their best to live up to the positive impression you have of them. You will need to remind them that your respect and that of their teammates is something that they must continually earn and maintain through their actions. Tell them that you would like to invest time with them to further develop their leadership skills.

Confirmation comes from the business world in a book called Leading the Way. The authors write, "Being a high-potential in the Top Companies often means you're held to a higher standard. Top Companies don't pull any punches. Nearly all tell their best leadership talent that they are, in fact, their best leadership talent. While some organizations prefer to keep quiet when it comes to telling high-potentials that they are high-potentials, Top Companies are often up-front with this key population, informing them not only of their status and its benefits, but also of what the designation doesn't mean."

Step 10: Invest the time to develop the leadership skills of your team.

After creating a Leadership Development Plan, follow up and invest the time develop your young leaders. There are a variety of ways you can do it including the following used by some of your coaching colleagues.

During the off-season, some coaches will invite a group of sophomores in on a regular basis to discuss their leadership philosophy and how their team can better develop as leaders.

Carolina women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance has his prospective leaders read chapters from The Leadership Moment by Michael Useem. The book includes real-life historical happenings and how positive or negative leadership played a prominent role.

Florida women's soccer coach Becky Burleigh takes her prospective leaders through areas of the Team Captains Network website to develop her leaders. She assigns them various links to read as well as having them take the five module e-course. They then post their insights on the Discussion Forum and discuss them as a group.

Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski invests 90 minutes every week to groom and mentor a sophomore, junior, and senior leader on his team.

Many coaches also use the 10-module program outlined in my Team Captain's Leadership Manual with their current and prospective leaders.

More info available at:

The primary point is that if you want to have strong veteran leaders, you must proactively invest the time to develop them when they are younger to create a reliable pipeline. As I've said before, "If you want your leaders to be an extension of you, you must extend yourself to them."

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