Developing next generation leaders is a critical step to future success

With spring here, we think of new growth that will come as nature revives itself for another growing season. With this in mind, it’s a good time to pause to think about greening and growing your next crop of leaders.

When speaking about my POW experience and the lessons learned there, a common question from the audience is how we chose our leaders in that situation. That’s a great question because the burden of leading in that cauldron was often painful, always unpredictable, and not a position that most people would want.

Fortunately we didn’t have to compete or debate about who would take command; in remote situations like this, it’s clear military policy that the senior person based on rank and date of promotion takes charge.

In normal conditions, the military is constantly training and grooming every person for higher leadership responsibilities. The heavy turnover from reassignment, separations and mandatory retirement makes succession planning a vital part of normal military planning and operations.

But many civilian organizations don’t see a pressing need, and many don’t have a system in place for developing and evaluating leaders. Do you have a vision for developing leaders? Do you see the need? Are you willing to invest time and energy in the process?


Have a vision

Developing leaders does take time and money, but it also has great short-term benefits:

  • Having a built-in system for instilling the values and leadership principles that are important to you.
  • Building relationships in classes to enhance functional collaboration and break down silos.
  • Gaining better-trained leaders at every level.
  • Creating higher morale and better retention among top performers.

Long-term benefits are even more strategic because research shows that hiring from within is the way to go especially at higher levels. Developing your own pool of leaders from which to choose managers, directors and executives reduces your risks in a number of ways.

Granted, there are times when you may need to bring in an outsider to stir the pot or tap into a resource you don’t have on board. But when you do, the risks go up.


Avoid a bad hire

Hiring is one of the most difficult challenges leaders face. If you search the Web, you’ll see that the estimates for the cost of a bad hire run from 30 percent of the individual’s salary to three times the annual salary.

In some cases, it could be much more when you consider the energy lost to the executive teams and the opportunity loss of not having the right person on board.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve been fortunate to work with some great organizations. The best ones usually put considerable effort and resources into developing their next generation of leaders at every level from first line supervisor to the executive level.

What about your organization? Do you have a focus on growing your leaders? What programs and processes do you have in place to make this happen?



Lee consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. His latest book about his Vietnam prisoner of war experience is entitled “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.”