Three Steps to Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

People climbing a mountain

Perhaps I am getting old. It’s clear my body doesn’t function the way it did 30-40 years ago. I don’t have the strength or stamina I once did, and recovery from injury takes longer. What’s tricky, though, is that I still think I’m 10-15 years younger than I am. When I’m in a large group, my mind sometimes picks out people in their 30s and early 40s and I think, “They’re my peers. I’m in that crowd.” At 53, am I deceiving myself? Maybe.

Another thing I think a lot about regarding these younger folks, including those in their 20s, is that they are the next generation of leaders. What am I doing to prepare them to lead?

Last week, I wrote about 3 More Qualities of the Best Leaders. In that post, I added to an earlier list of 7 Qualities of the Best Leaders, resulting in 10 qualities overall. Number 9 in the list of 10 qualities reads:
The best leaders develop the next generation of leaders.

What does that mean, though, to develop the next generation of leaders? We hear that phrase a lot. It’s become a cliché and we don’t really pause to consider how.

There are lots of great books, articles, and Web sites about developing the next generation of leaders. You could spend a tremendous amount of time studying how and building a strategy.

I’m going to boil it down to a core essence of three principles:

  1. The best leaders identify the next generation of leaders.
  2. The best leaders invest in the next generation of leaders.
  3. The best leaders incubate the next generation of leaders.

Identifying the Next Generation
The best leaders are intent on keeping watch for others, the young or the inexperienced, who have the potential for great leadership. There are three primary methods for identifying the next generation:

  • Direct observation on the job,
  • Referrals from other leaders, and
  • Those who raise their hand and say, “I want to be a leader.”

Regarding that last example, not everyone who desires to be a leader should be. Making this distinction requires discernment and wisdom. As much as possible, you will need to observe their work and solicit insight from other leaders.

Investing In the Next Generation
After identifying individuals who might be the next generation, the best leaders then make significant investments in this future by providing four things:

  • Opportunities for leadership experience,
  • One-to-one mentoring,
  • Skill-specific coaching, and
  • Participation in training and conferences.

From this list, the best way to develop others’ leadership skills is to give them opportunities in real job settings to lead. Success in that opportunity will depend greatly on your commitment to closely mentoring them and providing coaches to help them develop skills relevant for that leadership experience. The least effective strategy is training and conferences. That’s the easiest, but it has the lowest return.

Incubating the Next Generation
The term “incubation” implies a few things. Among them are:

  • Sticking with the highest potentials,
  • Being patient when development is slow or there are failures,
  • Continued encouragement, and
  • Partnering with other leaders.

The hardest part about developing the next generation of leaders is sticking with them. It can be a slow process. Sometimes the results are counterproductive to the organization’s needs. (Remember that those tough experiences, those failures, are often the young leaders’ most critical developmental moments.) This is when you, the leader, may need to demonstrate loyalty on behalf of the developing leader.

Developing the next generation of leaders is a big commitment. It can be a daunting task in many cases.

Simplify the task by focusing on Identify, Invest, and Incubate.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Mathias Jensen. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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