Are You Developing Leaders for Future Success?

Strong leadership is the backbone of any successful organization. As markets evolve and workforces grow more dynamic, the ability to cultivate a robust pipeline of future leaders is becoming increasingly crucial.

In a DDI survey of 529 CEOs, 50% reported "developing the next generation of leaders" as a top concern. Yet many organizations still struggle to identify and nurture their next generation of leaders effectively…

Why Strong Leaders Are So Important

Strong leaders are the driving force behind high-performing teams and successful organizations. They possess a unique combination of skills, traits, and qualities that enable them to inspire others and drive positive change.

5 key characteristics of effective leaders:

1. set clear goals and expectations

2. communicate effectively with team members at all levels

3. motivate others to achieve their full potential

4. adapt to changing circumstances

5. learn from failures and continuously seek opportunities for improvement

Developing Leaders


Beyond individual performance, strong leaders also have a significant impact on the overall success of an organization. They can create a positive work culture, boost employee engagement and retention, and drive innovation and growth.

Developing Strong Leaders

Developing a steady stream of well-rounded, capable leaders requires an intentional, multi-faceted approach. From spotting high-potential talent early on to providing tailored training and hands-on learning opportunities, there are numerous strategies that organizations must embrace.

The First step: Spotting Leadership Potential Early

Before you can develop future leaders, you need to identify who actually possesses the right skills and mindset for leadership roles. This requires proactively evaluating your employee base through regular performance reviews, feedback sessions, and assessment tools.

What should you be looking for? Some key traits of high-potential leaders include strategic thinking capabilities, sound decision-making skills, emotional intelligence, and a talent for managing and motivating others. Don't just focus on current role performance; look for those who demonstrate the potential to take on greater responsibilities down the line.

Identifying high-potential employees early allows you to start building your leadership pipeline on a solid foundation. After all, you can't develop what you don't recognize as future leadership material.

Customized Training for Well-Rounded Leaders

Once you've pinpointed your high-potential employees, it's time to provide them with the right leadership training and development opportunities. However, a one-size-fits-all approach is highly ineffective. Leadership development needs to be tailored based on an individual's specific level and growth needs.

For new managers, focus on building fundamental leadership skills like project management, budgeting, coaching, and conflict resolution. As they progress, shift towards more advanced capabilities such as strategic planning, executive decision-making, and developing a powerful leadership presence.

Effective leadership training should cover both hard skills (finance, operations, etc.) and soft skills (emotional intelligence, communication, etc.). Utilize a blended approach incorporating formal training programs, job shadowing, coaching, and mentoring to create well-rounded leaders.

And remember, leadership development isn't a one-and-done event. It needs to be an ongoing process that continuously builds new skills and experiences. Revisit development plans regularly and evolve them as your leaders grow.

Learning By Doing: Stretch Roles and Experiences

Of course, true leadership can't be developed through classroom training alone. Your high-potential employees need opportunities to put their skills into practice through hands-on learning experiences.

One powerful approach is offering stretch assignments that push them outside their comfort zones. This could involve taking on a challenging special project, filling an interim leadership role, or temporarily overseeing a cross-functional team or initiative. Such experiences force them to navigate real-world leadership scenarios and learn from smart failures in a relatively low-risk environment.

Cross-training through job rotations across different business units or functions is another excellent way to develop a broader organizational perspective. Rotating high potentials through multiple roles exposes them to diverse challenges and contexts, accelerating their leadership growth.

Facilitating mentoring relationships by pairing high-potential employees with seasoned leaders is also invaluable. A mentor can share their experiences, provide candid feedback, and offer guidance that helps mentees navigate their own leadership journeys more effectively.

Paving the way: Transparent career pathing

One of the biggest drivers of employee engagement and retention, especially for your future leaders, is a clear, transparent career path that shows them the opportunities for advancement within your organization.

Don't let your leadership development efforts go to waste by failing to map out potential roles, responsibilities, and timelines for career progression. Tie your leadership pipeline directly into your organization's succession planning and broader talent management strategy. Communicate to high-potential employees how they can grow into future leadership positions over time.

Equally important is providing the right support to help them get there. This could include access to coaching, sponsorship from influential leaders, and advocacy to raise their visibility. Incentivize your top talent to stay by demonstrating a genuine commitment to their leadership growth and upward mobility.

creating an environment for Leaders to Thrive

At the end of the day, leadership development can't be treated as just another HR program or initiative. It requires a cultural shift where leadership is prioritized and cultivated as an organizational strength.

This shift starts at the very top. Executive leaders must visibly exemplify the leadership behaviors they want to see embodied throughout the company. They need to empower employees to take on stretch roles, make decisions, and voice their perspectives. An environment of psychological safety, where smart risks and failures are seen as learning opportunities, is critical.

consider diversity and inclusion in leadership

Developing a diverse pipeline of future leaders is crucial for driving innovation, better decision-making, and strengthening an organization's competitive advantage. However, many companies still struggle with a lack of diversity in their leadership ranks.

To cultivate a truly diverse and inclusive group of leaders, organizations should:

  • Actively identify and nurture high-potential employees from underrepresented groups through targeted leadership development programs, mentoring, and sponsorship opportunities.

  • Implement robust processes to mitigate unconscious biases in promotion and succession planning decisions, such as using diverse interview panels and clearly defined competency models.

  • Ensure leadership development initiatives address topics like inclusive leadership, allyship, and creating psychologically safe environments where all voices are heard and valued.

  • Set measurable goals for leadership representation across different demographics and hold executives accountable for progress.

  • Foster active employee resource groups and mentoring circles that provide support networks and advocacy for underrepresented talent.

A diverse leadership team that reflects the markets and communities an organization serves can better relate to diverse stakeholders, spark innovation through varied perspectives, and create a more inclusive culture overall.

Common Challenges in Leadership Development

While the benefits of robust leadership development are clear, organizations often face several hurdles in effectively implementing these initiatives:

  • Lack of executive buy-in and prioritization of leadership development as a strategic imperative. This can result in a lack of support and resources for leadership development programs. To overcome the lack of executive buy-in, organizations should demonstrate the tangible business impact of effective leadership development through data-driven results and success stories.
  • Limited budget and resources dedicated to comprehensive training programs, coaching, job rotations, etc. Without adequate funding and resources, organizations may struggle to provide impactful leadership development opportunities. One solution could be to seek external funding or reallocate existing resources to support these programs.
  • Difficulties in identifying true high-potential talent early on due to unconscious biases or lack of objective evaluation criteria. Biases and subjective evaluations can hinder the identification of individuals with high leadership potential. To mitigate this, it's essential to implement structured assessments and objective criteria in the evaluation process.
  • Failure to provide clear career pathing and opportunities for stretch roles that facilitate hands-on learning. Without providing clear paths and opportunities for growth, employees may feel stagnant and disengaged. Implementing mentorship programs and training opportunities can help to address this issue.
  • Resistance to change from existing leaders who may feel threatened by up-and-coming talent. As leadership development aims to groom future leaders, it may face resistance from those currently in leadership positions. This can be addressed by involving current leaders in the process and showcasing how their support and mentorship can positively impact the company's future success.
  • Struggles in creating an organizational culture that truly values continuous learning, psychological safety, and empowerment. Transforming an organizational culture to prioritize leadership development is a significant challenge. It requires consistent effort and dedication from all levels of the organization, starting with top leadership leading by example.

To overcome these hurdles, leadership development must be championed from the top down, with the CEO and executive team actively involved. It requires dedicated investment, robust talent management processes, and an unwavering commitment to fostering an environment conducive to leadership growth at all levels.

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5 Ways to Identify and Develop Future Leaders; Mind Tools,

Developing Your Leadership Pipeline; Harvard Business Review; Jay A. Conger and Robert M. Fulmer

Global Leadership Forecast 2023; DDI

How To Develop Future Leaders in 5 Steps (With Benefits);,

How to Develop Your Future Leaders; Michael Page,