Blog Post

How to Prepare Employees to Step Up When Leadership Steps Down

Rita Trehan

Human Resources Consultant

Part of HR's greatest responsibility lies with succession planning: we must identify and develop the next generation of leadership so they may step up when current leadership steps down. It's incredibly important to the future of an organization: a 2016 Borderless survey on Leadership Development cited ability having enough capable leaders as one of the top organizational challenges most companies face.

It's been said the higher you advance in a company, you should be able to readily identify someone to take your place so you can move to the next spot. Succession planning, in this example and in business overall, is the path to progress. Here's how to develop the next layer of leadership for your business:

Skill Development

In order to prepare an aspiring leader for the next level of responsibility, you must expose them to experiences which develop their abilities. It doesn't have to be all hard, job-related skill development: a 2016  cites leading change, responding to feedback, and facilitative communication as critical abilities for emerging leaders.


Partnering emerging talent with existing leadership is crucial to ensuring cultural continuity and guidance. Not only does mentorship help emerging talent navigate growing pains, but it's an important opportunity to champion diversity by pairing individuals who can experience growth through the experience. Also, the best mentors see the ability to develop character over competency and balance criticism with enthusiasm.

Stretch Projects and Roles

Nothing prepares you to jump into the deep end like a stretch role, which can start with larger project assignments and leading meetings and expand to jobs outside their chosen department or rotations through roles that can expand their experience and leadership acumen. Stretch roles aren't just part of a softer leadership training initiative: it's a strategy to retain top talent.

Consistent Feedback and Coaching

Regular conversations and check-ins can vastly accelerate growth for an emerging leader as a means of hard and soft skill review, but also for critical feedback of external perception of culture fit and performance. Be sure to build in consistent information sharing, both formal and informal, and open the door to answer questions and capitalize on learning opportunities immediately.

Allow for Fall Out

Not everyone is meant to evolve into a leadership role. Once individuals identified as high potential opt out of a leadership role, find other challenges for their skills and abilities and move another into their role. It's not for everyone, and the sooner you know, the more swiftly you can adjust.


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