Today’s workforce is rapidly changing, as Boomers pass the baton to their Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z counterparts. However, for many organizations, this transition is creating massive gaps in knowledge, experience, and skills — especially among next-generation leaders.
What are employers doing to address this challenge? For helpful answers, we asked business executives, HR leaders, and employee development professionals to tell us which strategies are most successful, and why.
Together, their responses look like the table of contents from a best-selling management book:
- Invest in Multifaceted Development Programs
- Involve Team Members in Decision-Making
- Offer an “Emerging Leaders” Program
- Initiate a Leadership Incubator
- Establish Collaborative Leadership Circles
- Build a Robust Employee Resource Group Program
- Launch a Proactive Program for High-Potential Talent
- Empower Leaders with a 90-Day Challenge
- Implement Bi-Directional Mentoring Programs
- Promote Continuous Learning with an In-House Library
- Use Virtual Reality in Leadership Development
- Pair New Workers for Balanced Mentorship
- Focus on Career Paths
To find out more about why and how these methods are making a positive difference, read on…
13 Proven Ideas to Prepare Next-Generation Leaders
1. Invest in Multifaceted Development Programs
The best way to nurture promising people is to invest in their growth. Relevant, engaging learning experiences not only motivate high-potentials but engage other leaders in your organization, as well.
One way I’ve done this is by creating year-long, multifaceted emerging leader programs — including mentorships, community service, shadowing, and formal learning opportunities. These next-generation leaders are gaining the knowledge they need for the next step in their careers while also learning the business at a deeper level.
Upon completion, graduates are well-rounded professionals with an elevated strategic view of our company and our industry. Along the way, they have created meaningful connections with their peers, mentors, and other leaders. This approach shows top-level talent you care about their development and demonstrates how important this is in sustaining a vibrant culture.
Kerby Pickens, Leadership Development Manager, MNTN
2. Involve Team Members in Decision-Making
One of the most rewarding and constructive aspects of my job is working with my team members and inviting them to weigh in on important structural decisions that are necessary for our organization’s success. This way, they can consider first-hand all the factors that go into this kind of decision.
When you identify strong talent, it is important to ask them, “How would you solve that?” and then work with them to show the value in both their approach and yours. It creates balance in decision-making, where you listen to other opinions but also have confidence in your approach.
Matt Harrison, Vice President of Global Operations, Next Net Media
3. Offer an “Emerging Leaders” Program
When I was creating leadership development for the Sephora Inside JCPenney division of JCPenney, we quickly recognized that internal team members were rarely promoted to the “Beauty Manager” position. Even though they had internal business knowledge, they lacked the kind of leadership experience necessary to step into the role, and this was affecting engagement and retention.
In response, we created an “Emerging Leaders” program designed for Senior Product Consultants and Operations Consultants — typically the best-qualified roles to take on Beauty Manager responsibilities.
The program comprised specific self-paced virtual training classes, a self-study workbook, and prescribed on-the-job experiences designed to expose participants to many work situations they would face once promoted.
Although program completion didn’t guarantee promotion, it helped individuals become more competitive as candidates. As a result, we saw a definite lift in internal promotions!
Courtney Ramsey, Leadership Development Consultant, Courtney Ramsey Speaks, LLC
4. Initiate a “Leadership Incubator”
At dasFlow, we’ve created a “leadership incubator” program to cultivate next-generation leaders. It’s not just about lectures — we give rising stars actual projects through “innovation pods.”
These teams tackle and resolve real business challenges. One standout pod found ways to cut waste and reduce costs by 10%. Its leader now helms our Sustainability Division.
The key? Provide hands-on experience and real-world challenges. It turns potential into leadership, fast.
Nicolas Krauss, Founder and CEO, dasFlow Custom Athleisure Apparel
5. Establish Collaborative Leadership Circles
I’ve found Leadership Circles to be a valuable development platform. This offers emerging leaders a unique opportunity to gain insights from the lived experiences of more senior professionals in an environment where everyone is encouraged to share lessons learned.
By openly discussing challenges and setbacks, circle members can collectively troubleshoot common leadership puzzles to find better solutions. In addition, the circle serves as a supportive network where leaders can navigate career issues, receive guidance, and develop strategies for growth.
Through exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences, emerging leaders can build their confidence, refine their ideas, and gain valuable knowledge to enhance their professional journeys. Investing in these circles is a catalyst for continuous learning and development, enabling leaders to thrive in their roles and contribute to the company’s overall success.
Heidi Hauver, Consulting Chief People Officer
6. Build a Robust Employee Resource Group Network
We’ve built a robust Employee Resource Group (ERG) program so next-generation leaders can establish strong community relationships and grow with the help of peer support. Groups like Womxn of Checkr (WOC) provide a space for diverse and traditionally underrepresented groups to support, empower, and encourage each other.
Of course, ERGs don’t replace the support of management, but they’re a powerful aspect of the leadership development mosaic.
Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer, Checkr
7. Launch a Proactive Program for High-Potential Talent
In 2016, our organization became aware of higher turnover risk among promising young talent, and we wanted to avoid being left stranded without successors when senior leaders moved on.
So we proactively launched a program focused on those who both desired and had the potential to grow in our company. But we added a twist. Traditional talent programs rely on managers to select participants. Instead, our participants had to apply and go through a multi-phase recruitment process.
Those who were selected joined a two-year learning journey that provided multiple opportunities to better understand our company and gain critical business acumen. Each individual received coaching and regular career reviews with our HR team, to prepare them for a leadership position, immediately or later on in their career.
Lavinia Mehedintu, Co-Founder and Learning Architect, Offbeat L&D
8. Empower Leaders With a 90-Day Challenge
In our organization, nurturing next-generation leaders is a top priority. This is why we invest in initiatives like the “90-Day Leadership Challenge,” a program designed to empower participants with the skills and confidence they need to excel.
This program is built on a structured approach, combining real-world project challenges and mentorship with skills workshops that help participants develop a high-performance mindset, emotional intelligence, leadership presence, and interpersonal skills. We regularly assess the program’s impact by evaluating participants’ career progression, productivity, and feedback. This helps us fine-tune key elements to meet evolving needs.
Looking ahead, we’re excited to expand this initiative, collaborate with more organizations, and explore new ways to foster leadership talent within our organization and beyond.
Allison Dunn, CEO, Head Business and Executive Coach, Deliberate Directions
9. Implement Bi-Directional Mentoring Programs
This is a mission I truly enjoy because it enables next-generation leaders to create a much better world through the power of technology and visionary orientation. I believe newcomers are highly attuned to purpose, mission, and legacy. Tapping into that special level of sensitivity can be highly effective.
One model I’ve developed for several companies focuses on training future leaders by establishing bi-directional mentoring programs. Start by clearly communicating your vision and direction. Then pair individuals who are most enthusiastic about that future with your organization’s most admired leaders.
Existing leaders will learn from their junior counterparts and connect with their expectations, aspirations, and technologies. At the same time, junior participants will acquire enduring qualities from those they admire and wish to emulate. It’s a genuine win for all.
Cristina Imre, Top Voice on LinkedIn, Executive Coach, and Business Strategist, Quantum Wins
10. Promote Continuous Learning with an In-House Library
One of the easiest ways to nurture next-generation leaders is to help them understand the value of continuous learning. Many organizations think of this as seminars, training classes, and so forth.
But one of the most effective tools for us is a learning library we created for use within our organization. This is about literally creating a library at your main office or satellite locations. Stock the shelves with books that have bolstered your career and are appropriate for growing others’ careers. Then give next-generation leaders free access to these resources, so they can easily check out any book, any time.
As a bonus, you can create study areas, where people can informally meet and dive deep into a book. In addition, you can offer book clubs so people can connect over a particular book and discuss its meaning, relevance, and related lessons learned.
Joseph Lalonde, Leadership Coach and Author, Reel Leadership
11. Use Virtual Reality in Leadership Development
Virtual reality (VR) is revolutionizing how we develop future leaders. By enabling individuals to step into their colleagues’ shoes, VR plays a pivotal role in amplifying empathy and reducing exclusion, which fosters a more inclusive work culture.
This immersive technology lets leaders experience different perspectives in a safe environment. This promotes a deeper understanding of the diverse experiences and challenges their team members face.
As leaders navigate these realistic virtual situations, it also pushes them outside their comfort zones, encouraging them to take risks and think innovatively.
This “walk a mile” VR approach not only enhances emotional intelligence but also cultivates courage and fosters innovation — essential traits for effective 21st-century leadership. As a result, VR is emerging as a powerful tool in shaping empathetic, courageous, and innovative leaders capable of driving positive workplace change.
Vivian Acquah CDE®, Certified Diversity Executive, Amplify DEI
12. Pair New Workers for Balanced Mentorship
Mentorships are key to nurturing next-generation leaders. That’s why I always aim to pair new workers with established employees. To make this program work, I carefully account for personality. While some might think pairing like-minded people together yields the best results, I’ve found the opposite is true.
For example, asking an introvert to guide another introvert won’t push anyone out of their comfort zone. Instead, it’s likely to amplify existing weaknesses.
That’s why I recommend using the same logic you would apply to equalize a kid’s sports team. Assign the strongest players and skills with balance in mind.
For example, I recently paired one of our most detail-oriented workers with a big-personality new hire. The effect was a team with a combination of skills that helped them succeed at every stage of the process, from rote tasks to specialized networking.
Linn Atiyeh, CEO, Bemana
13. Focus on Career Paths
Start by identifying inexperienced individuals with talent and give them opportunities to grow. If you have succeeded in the role, train them yourself. If not, pair them with the best person to guide them.
The next step may sound a little crazy to many employers: career pathing. For each individual, define success in their current role and identify what that could evolve into — including upward and lateral moves. Give people something to work toward and help them understand your view of their potential in the near term and beyond. I have seen this practice, alone, increase retention rates by 50-70%.
The most frequent reason people cite for leaving an employer is not having the room or ability to grow in their role. Promoting from within is a smart strategy. Most employers say they do this, but my best guess is that less than half actually do. Employees are living, breathing business continuity. Invest in the good ones. Their leadership could one day make or break you.
Matthew Jones, Senior IT Recruiter, VIP Staffing