Leadership pipeline - create an effective leadership culture

What is the leadership pipeline?

The leadership pipeline is one of the most talked about and influential theories of leadership, management and talent development in recent decades. Leadership pipeline theory is based on the assumption that good leadership depends on what you lead. The requirements for good leadership change from one level of management to the next. So, for example, what works for the manager of employees may not work as well for the manager of managers.

In short, the leadership pipeline is a framework understanding of how to create successful leadership at all levels of an organization. It requires a common language and a shared understanding of what successful leadership is. Such common ground can be achieved with the leadership pipeline, which provides a model for organizations to define the requirements, criteria and qualities that characterize each layer of leadership.

In Denmark, the ideas from the leadership pipeline are particularly prevalent in the public sector. This may be due in part to some of the wild problems that the public sector is experiencing. Groups of leaders approaching retirement age. Large cohorts being replaced by small ones. And competition from the private sector on pay and conditions. But of course, these issues also have a major impact in the private sector. With the leadership pipeline model, it's possible to build an internal talent pool of leaders to make your organization less vulnerable to wild problems like these.

Leadership pipeline models

The theory spread with books such as "The Leadership Pipeline", "What You Got Here Won't Get You There" and "The Leadership Pipeline in the Public Sector". The approach and basic ideas are the same across the books, but there is some disagreement about how many transitions or transitions there are for leaders. Some theorists refer to six transitions, which corresponds well with the number in large, multinational companies. Others point to three or four transitions, which better reflects smaller companies and organizations - such as in Denmark. However, all theorists agree that context determines and determines how the generic typology of four transitions or passages (described below) should be adapted and concretized.

The groups included in the model are:

- The employee (creates results through their own efforts)

- The leader of employees (creates results through others)

- The leader of leaders (creating results through leaders)

- The functional manager (drives results through a diverse part of the organization)

- The top manager (drives results through the organization)

The four levels

The transitions between each level are challenging because they require the leader to align their skills, priorities and work values - so that they are aligned with the leadership role. Otherwise, the result can be that the leader stumbles. Sometimes with serious career and organizational consequences.

First level: manager of employees

Typically, it's the highly skilled employees who are rewarded with a promotion to manager. It's important and necessary that the new manager can now be motivated by achieving results through the efforts and success of others rather than their own personal, professional efforts. In addition, new skills such as recruiting, delegating tasks, setting goals for others and assessing their performance are required.

Second level: manager of managers

When a manager moves from being responsible for a group of employees to managing other managers, it naturally leads to different priorities and skills than before. The manager of managers must assemble, develop and motivate a group of managers. The focus is more strategic and long-term, and the manager must focus horizontally on establishing connections between teams and departments.

Third level: The functional manager

The functional manager reports directly to the CEO and has a high level of strategic and cross-functional responsibility with multiple layers of management below them. The management task changes at this level because the manager must be able to act in relation to the political level and design organizational processes, structures and management systems to match political priorities.

Fourth level: The top manager                   

The role of a CEO brings with it a greater focus and understanding of the organization's place in society. The CEO must be able to advise, mediate and navigate within the political framework. In addition, the CEO must be able to build a loyal top management team around them. Otherwise, it will be difficult to push through decisions that are oriented towards the big picture rather than short-term and local goals.

Case: Aleris Hamlet implemented a new management framework

Aleris has become one of Denmark's largest private healthcare companies, but in order to continue its growth journey, they have decided to focus on a new management foundation. A new management foundation has been necessary for the company, as a complex company with more employees and multiple business areas has meant that Aleris has had to sharpen its management role even more.

Benefits of the leadership pipeline

The leadership pipeline model is so widely used because it brings several benefits. With the model, it becomes, among other things:

- Easier to understand the levels of management and describe the expectations of each level of management. That is, the right management at the right level through clear descriptions and expectations of the different levels of management's key competencies, tasks and performance responsibilities

- More likely to promote an employee or manager based on potential to perform at the next level of management rather than just looking at current performance

- Opportunity to build and strengthen your organization's talent community by shaping future leaders

- An opportunity to establish a common language and understanding of what successful leadership looks like in the organization you work in. In this way, you can give a concrete answer to the difficult and abstract question "What is good leadership at our company?"

- Visible to the ambitious employee or manager what it takes to move to the next level

How we can help you

We offer you leadership and organizational sparring, research-based training and presentations on the leadership pipeline as well as training courses with a specific focus on giving you and your organization general leadership competencies. Read examples of our services here.


Inspiring research-based presentations on learning culture for all levels of your organization


Sparring in connection with the development of your organization, your decisions and initiatives.


Facilitation of active workshops focusing on competence development at management and executive level.

How LEAD can help you and your organization with leadership pipeline implementation

At LEAD, we dare to claim that we are among the leading and most knowledgeable within the leadership pipeline in Denmark. We have written research and experience-based bestsellers on the subject and have helped numerous organizations implement the ideas from the leadership pipeline to advance the work with leadership and the understanding of what leadership looks like in their organization.

We can use our extensive knowledge and experience of the leadership pipeline to create effective and cohesive leadership chains where all levels of management know their responsibilities and mandates and align them on an ongoing basis. Creating better leadership at all levels because leaders know what the organization expects of them and greater job satisfaction because expectations are clear. 

We work pragmatically with the leadership pipeline theory and know that organizations should not adapt theories, but that the theory should be adapted to the individual organization and used to achieve the organization's goals.

There are three main ways we approach the leadership pipeline:

Total implementation: We develop and implement a tailored version of the leadership pipeline based on the leadership foundation and extensive involvement of the organization.

Rings in the water: We use the leadership pipeline approach in local, selected and meaningful leadership initiatives in a defined part of the organization and let them spread from there.

Strategy implementation: Leadership pipeline thinking is used to strengthen the implementation of a key strategic initiative by supporting roles and leadership behaviors.

The consulting team working with the leadership pipeline

Kim Martin Nielsen

Partner | Read more here

Maja Nyboe Bjerrehuus

Senior Consultant | Read more here

Claus Elmholdt

Professional Director | Founder | Read more here

Kristian Dahl

Business Director | Read more here

Rasmus Thy

Partner | Read more here

Contact us to learn more about what we can do for your organization

Are you facing an organizational change? Do you need strategic advice or a cultural development program?

Contact us and together we will tailor a process that develops the exact competencies and structures that strengthen and future-proof your organization.

Kristian Dahl

Business Director, Founder


Mobile: +45 28 74 22 20
Email: kd@lead.eu