Episode 43: Steve Drotter On Managing Managers & The Leadership Pipeline [The Amiel Show]

We talk a lot on the podcast about stages of development within adults–why they matter and what you find while transitioning to a new stage.

But what about levels within organizations? What new capacities does each call for? What happens when you’re not doing the work of that level–or haven’t developed the inner and outer capacities to do it well?

To explore these questions, I turned to one of the world’s top experts on succession planning: Steve Drotter. When I say “top,” I mean it. Steve has advised half of the Fortune 10 on CEO succession and decades ago helped build GE’s famous succession planning machine.

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And then he wrote a book with Ram Charan.

In 2001, Steve partnered with Charan and Jim Noel on The Leadership Pipeline.  It filled a massive void in succession planning by defining six key leadership passages in organizations. And it sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

But that’s not all. In 2011, Steve wrote The Performance Pipeline, which identifies the work to be done at each level of leadership.

Recently, Steve and I chatted for an hour about these two books and how they are reshaping our view of leadership and organizational success. We explore:

  • How is managing managers dramatically different from managing individual contributors?
  • Why do function managers often feel like they aren’t accomplishing much?
  • What makes it important for business managers to bring together multifunctional teams?
  • Why is being a group manager less fun than you might think?
  • What are CEOs truly responsible for?

Leadership PipelineSteve DrotterPerformance Pipeline


  • 8:00 Steve’s work with John Reed at Citibank on succession planning
  • 12:30  Your first job out of school—learning time discipline and adopting company values
  • 15:30 #1: First line manager = 100% change in the work requirements
  • 18:00 #2: Manager of managers, another major transition
  • 32:00 The first question to ask when work isn’t getting done (as manager of managers)
  • 33:00 #3: Function manager—the first strategic layer
  • 42:15 #4: Business manager—ask how the business makes money
  • 43:45 #5: Group manager—connect all the businesses to the enterprise
  • 47:00 #6: CEO—setting enterprise direction, attending to culture
  • 54:30 The sweet spot with the pipeline model: $100M-$5B companies
  • 57:00 Coaching leaders using the pipeline framework
  • 1:04:00 Steve’s transition from top HR executive to external consultant

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“I can name ten Fortune 100 companies without high enough expectations for managers of managers”

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