The contemporary business landscape is complex and rapidly evolving. From shifts in the market to disruptive new technologies, the business leaders of tomorrow will need to be adaptable, bold, and opportunistic. As such, companies must be proactive in identifying and preparing future leaders.

Building a solid professional development strategy is a vital tool for succession planning. It is also a key differentiator. According to a recent study, almost 90% of employees would need to see strong skills development programs and possibilities for career advancement to consider a new job. And two-thirds of employees say they have thought about leaving a position because the company does not offer sufficient upward mobility.

To future-proof leadership, organizations need to take a dual approach, hiring up-and-coming talent while recognizing and nurturing the potential of those already within the organization.

The Profile of a Leader

Tomorrow’s leaders will need a unique blend of skills to thrive, some of which we may not be able to anticipate today. Others, though, will remain consistent.

Leaders must be resilient in the face of change and have the ability to build trust with and inspire their teams. Emotional intelligence is critical, particularly when navigating unknowns. The most successful Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) connect with their employees on a personal level, engaging with their work and understanding their motivations.

Along with gaining formal qualifications, emerging leaders should focus heavily on fostering communication and collaboration skills and honing their capacity for empathy. These are essential in any industry and are reliable early indicators of leadership potential.

Companies that do their part to nurture this by providing scaffolded opportunities for learning will be more likely to find that, in the future, they have a healthy pipeline to draw from.

Assessing Potential in New Hires

Even with best-in-class professional development, there will be times when companies need to address skill and capacity gaps within their teams. Bringing in new candidates can be an effective way to add diversity and vitality to an organization’s workforce.

When recruiting future leaders, companies should avoid being too rigid in their expectations. For instance, the tactics a Chief Operating Officer (COO) employs today may not be relevant in 10 years. When companies fixate on preconceived ideas of how a role should look, they can miss out on chances to innovate.

Instead, hiring managers should concentrate on assessing leadership potential. To this end, behavioral questions can provide insight into an interviewee’s management style. Some examples include:

  • How would your supervisor describe your leadership style? How about your direct reports?
  • Tell us about a time you had to deal with a challenging personnel issue. What approach did you take?
  • What are some strategies you use to motivate others?

In addition, companies need to ensure their offers reflect market rates. Long-term incentives to encourage retention, equity programs, and transparent bonus packages can all help secure and retain promising candidates.

Fostering Leadership Development

Beyond hiring, organizations should foster a culture of continuous learning to prepare their existing talent for leadership. Supervisors should operate with openness and honesty, providing employees with clear paths to advancement so they know what they need to do to progress.

Structured coaching, training, and mentorship can help individuals cultivate the skills they will rely on in the future. Rotational programs, which enable employees to gain experience in new roles and departments, can give participants a well-rounded understanding of the organization while allowing them to flex new muscles.

Lastly, employees need to be rewarded for good work. Collaboration is essential, but high achievers will never thrive in an environment where they are held back by underperformers. Companies should not be afraid to sieve out the bad while encouraging the good.

The Abiding Power of Relationships

Data shows that employees are highly motivated by opportunities for career growth. As a result, any company that does not have a comprehensive development program will run into issues. Similarly, organizations that focus solely on making internal hires will overlook ways to enhance their talent pool.

Thanks to tools like LinkedIn, the candidates who will make up tomorrow’s C-suite have a wealth of opportunity at their fingertips. However, relationships are still the foundation for success in attracting and developing talent.

By listening to what candidates and employees value and getting to know their strengths and goals, companies can ensure they are giving their team members the tools they need to grow. That means that when the time comes, they will be well-equipped to navigate new challenges with a robust pipeline of emerging leaders.