Why have some organizations been able to grow and prosper for decades or even centuries? Of course there are many reasons for this, but one of the most compelling is the intentional and ongoing commitment of leadership development – the ongoing commitment to build and train leaders to take the place of the current leaders and carry on the mission and purpose of the organization.

Leaders do not just appear. They cannot all of a sudden be appointed and expected to succeed without adequate training and preparation. Just because someone is six foot ten inches tall does not automatically make them a NBA basketball professional. They need other skills to be well developed before they can reach this level of performance. Just because someone can throw a football fifty yards does not automatically make them a star quarterback for a football team. Other skills, such as communication, decisiveness, and leadership need to be well developed before this person can be successful as a quarterback.

The son or daughter of a family-run business is not automatically qualified to be the founder’s successor to the founder merely because of their genealogy. Significant leadership skills must be developed if this person is to be successful as a successor. We will see that this process of training and mentoring takes a great deal of time – years, not weeks or months. In our Leadership Development Survey, 90 percent of the almost 600 respondents indicated that leadership development was either essential or important to the organization’s success. Yet, only 60 percent indicated that their organization’s efforts regarding leadership development were either “very dedicated” or “dedicated.” This is alarming when we think about our responsibility as leaders to train up the next generation of leaders.

Developing effective leaders is arguably a chief executive’s most important role and should receive the most attention. Sadly, this is not always the case. People are appointed to leadership positions that are not qualified or ready, and organizations that were once successful begin to flounder. Highly talented, motivated and loyal employees begin to leave. Core values and customer satisfaction begin to erode, and the very survival of a once thriving enterprise is at stake.

This scenario does not have to happen, but it takes significant focus and commitment, careful planning and a willingness to confront reality in order to avoid what has happened to thousands of organizations. How can we avoid a leadership vacuum in our organizations? If you are interested in getting answers to that question, let me know; perhaps I can help.