Frontline leaders are vital to the success of any organisation. They are the people working with frontline staff and interacting with customers. Typically they make up 50% of an organisation’s leaders, directly supervising up to 80% of its workforce.

However, research shows that organisations are not making the most of this important group of people. Harvard Business Review found that nearly 60% of companies are facing leadership talent shortages that are impeding performance and another 31% expect a lack of leadership talent to negatively impact their performance in the coming years. A Corporate Executive Board study found that on average frontline leaders receive up to 3 times less development than senior leaders.

Maintaining a steady supply of people who are willing and able to lead at the frontline is set to get more challenging in the next few years. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK, 2020 is the deadline organisations have for filling the void that will be left by the last of the retiring Baby Boomer leaders.

This means that your existing leaders will need to take a step up, leaving gaps at the frontline. In the process some may find themselves thrust into roles they are unprepared for and the result could be a higher incidence of burnout and increased turnover amongst frontline leaders and team members.

A new approach is required to improve the success rate for budding frontline leaders. This is required not only as a result of the impending retirement of the Baby Boomers but also because of the changing expectations of the Gen Ys who will be replacing them. We need to turn to another field for inspiration, a field that has long ago learnt to successfully deal with the issue of nurturing the next generation – gardening.

Plants are at their most fragile when they are small and just starting to grow. That’s why gardeners use greenhouses to protect them until they can survive on their own. Like seedlings, budding leaders are easily damaged and require special care to help them grow into strong, confident and productive leaders. If you can help the leaders grow strong they will be able to handle the harsh conditions they are likely to encounter.

So how does greenhouse effect work? There are 4 phases to consider:


You need to design a strategy that takes into account factors such as:

  • assessing your current situation to decide on the activities that will have the greatest impact
  • identifying your future needs so you can plan ahead rather than only focus on the short term
  • compiling a comprehensive list of initiatives that will be undertaken in the next 2 to 5 years


Before you can develop new leaders there are a few essential areas you must consider. They include:

  • transforming the culture so it is ready to receive new leaders
  • creating a cohesive leadership team across all levels
  • approaching people who have been identified as potential leaders to discuss their interest and address their concerns


You want to create an environment that helps your new leaders to grow strong. This means:

  • delivering programs on the concepts and skills required to lead
  • offering both training and development options that are relevant to the needs of leaders as they increase in confidence
  • providing guidance and support from existing leaders to help new frontline leaders settle into their roles


Now you need to put in place a system to ensure ongoing learning by:

  • offering them development at a higher level or in niche areas
  • giving them access to industry experts and thought leaders
  • creating a coaching and mentoring culture amongst leaders so current leaders can help you to develop the next crop  

Article Contributed by Karen Schmidt, an award winning speaker with Training Edge International.  She helps frontline leaders perform better using her workplace gardening philosophy.

To learn more about how to create a more effective strategy for developing your leaders, register today to enjoy early bird prices at to attend the workshop “Creating a strategy for developing frontline leaders” on 31 July 2015!