Experienced leaders are critical to the success of your business, but how well would your company cope if key people were to move on?

It’s an important question to ask because the fact is, your present leaders won’t be around forever. Taking an active approach to nurturing leadership in your organisation is an essential step to ensure the business won’t experience significant disruption when your most senior people leave.

Nevertheless, as compliance and regulatory matters become a growing issue for companies globally, mid-level managers can be hesitant about taking on leadership roles. That doesn’t mean you need to look outside the organisation for future leaders. In fact, it makes good business sense to groom the talent you already have.

The key is to have the right structures in place to retain quality talent and develop your next generation of leaders. Two broad strategies – both formal and informal, can be effective to groom your best people for leadership roles.

Formal mentoring schemes and training programs

Mentoring is a cost-effective and very successful strategy for nurturing leaders.

It all starts with identifying employees who you believe have the capabilities and drive to become future leaders. Then, partner these promising people with current business leaders. You may find that being recognised as a potential future leader can bring out the leadership qualities in a talented employee. However these qualities can be further enhanced and finessed through mentoring.

Taking the time to develop a formal mentoring program is a good investment. Consider the most suitable mentor for each up-and-coming leader - bearing in mind that mentors don’t have to come from within your own company. Determine clear meeting dates and topics for discussion to ensure mentoring session remain as productive as possible for time-starved people.

It’s also worth setting a timeframe for the mentoring relationship itself. Nurturing leaders work best when aspiring talent is able to connect with a variety of different personalities and be exposed to the full spectrum of leadership styles. As time progresses, it can pay to transition up-and-coming leaders out of one mentoring relationship and into a new one with a different mentor.

Part of the appeal of mentoring is that it can be a two-way street where both parties benefit from learning and development opportunities. ‘Reverse mentoring’ for instance, describes the situation where your senior leaders are able to learn from the skills and insights of younger talent.

Leadership training programs compliment mentoring

Leadership can be further nurtured through formal training programs. These can be in-house or outsourced but the main point is to look for programs that build on what is being learned through mentoring relationships.

Informal strategies – or ‘soft’ support

While formal strategies are valuable for nurturing leadership, some experts take the view that leadership skills are developed from experience – not imparted directly.

This being the case, it’s worth taking a holistic approach to nurturing leadership by adding informal strategies to your leadership program. Provide networking opportunities, encourage attendance at conferences and industry functions, and invite your potential leaders to sit in on high level meetings and add to the discussion.

Nurturing leaders this way doesn’t just ensure there are suitable candidates to step into the shoes of today’s most senior talent. Investing in your best and brightest is also a critical step to keeping these employees on the payroll and discourage them from seeking a more rewarding future – possibly with one of your competitors.