A group of frontline leaders developing new strategies


It’s Time to Think Differently About Your Frontline Leaders

It’s easy—and dangerous—to overlook just how important frontline leaders are to an organization’s success.

Publish Date: January 9, 2019

Read Time: 6 min

Author: Kevin Cook

/ Resources / Blogs / It’s Time to Think Differently About Your Frontline Leaders

Organizations of all sizes continue to struggle with the challenges of ensuring they have the right leaders in place to ensure success now and in the future. Many companies are adopting a pipeline approach to leadership where they develop talent from within to increase their readiness for the future. I see companies that often focus their scarce resources and budgets on their senior levels, and, increasingly, their mid-level leaders, in their efforts to identify and develop strong leaders. 

But, as they strive to move from good to great, they are sometimes neglecting the start of their leadership pipeline—frontline leaders. The companies I work with that are in it for the long haul, looking for sustained organizational performance, see the importance of the frontline to their success. They spend the time and budget needed to ensure they get the most from these critical leaders.

The CEO and other members of the senior team have the greatest impact on business growth, strategy execution and every other indicator of success because they define the vision, strategy and direction for the organization.  But they are by no means the only source of impact or necessary ingredient for success. Leaders and employees at all levels are important. Both strength and risk can be found in every corner of an organization, from the CEO to the individual contributor level.

Why frontline leaders are so important

Frontline leaders are critical to the success of an organization right now—and even more so in the organization’s future. It is no secret that companies have greater financial success when they develop and build their leaders from within by developing all levels of leaders. Organizations gain value from bringing in talent from the outside but gain even more from building an internal leadership pipeline that flows smoothly and gives all levels of leaders a chance to grow and thrive. Strategic leaders provide vision and direction and set organizational strategies in place. Mid-level leaders execute those strategies and drive the organization forward.

But where do these leaders come from? The frontline. That is where the pipeline starts.

So why are frontline leaders so critical to organizational success?

For starters, frontline leaders are closest to your customers. They touch customers every day and have the pulse of the market. They lead your workforce on a day-to-day basis—managing work, providing coaching, putting out fires.

How do you know what they can do? How do they know? Are they on the right path to future mid and senior leadership roles in your organization?

To be sure you have the right leaders in these roles, look at your current capability and readiness to give you what you need for the future.

Focus on the front of your pipeline

Here are a few strategies for building your frontline for a whole pipeline strategy:

  • Start making decisions with data. You have leaders in various states of readiness, but you need the right talent intelligence to make informed decisions.
  • Rely on more than your gut to promote people. Good decisions aren’t based on hope.
  • Use differential development instead of applying blanket core leadership development programs to get everyone ready at once.

Your frontline leaders can be your greatest asset or your greatest liability.

Start to build the best leadership pipeline possible by focusing on your frontline—today.

Check out our on-demand webinar to help turn your frontline managers into exceptional leaders.

Kevin Cook, Ph.D., is Vice President, Global Customer Success, at DDI.

Topics covered in this blog