Leaders are not developed overnight. Rather, leaders develop competencies across a continuum over time. Indeed, leaders mature along a curve based on experiences and the skills and competencies that they develop along the way. That said, it is good business to develop talent continuously so that you establish a pipeline of leaders at various stages of readiness that can take the lead whenever circumstances deem necessary.

Most of my clients have talent development systems of some sort. Most of them do not have leadership development focus, per se. Instead, most in-house training programs offer a curriculum full of one-off skills development offerings, like "How To Be An Active Listener" and "Interactive Presentation Design." This kind of training has its place, but they do little to prepare the organization for tomorrow's leadership challenges. A proper leadership development program is needed to ensure businesses don't come up short when needing to fill leadership positions.

Here are four foundational elements to look for in any leadership development program. Think of these combining to form the four legs of a stool -- you need all four of these characteristics to establish a well-rounded leadership development program -- skip one and the program may not produce results that you can count on:

1. Data to make better placement decisions.

This is provided through the use of an intense battery of assessments instruments. The data derived from these instruments provides additional insights needed to make better choices in placing future leaders in available positions.

The assessment data also helps the staff, which take them, to better understand where their opportunities for growth and maturity lie; insights that can help them to commit to driving the changes that they need to make to become better leaders.

2. A focus on fundamental leadership competencies. 

These are skills participants will cultivate, and practice, enabling them to evolve along their own individualized maturity curve. Done right, staff will maximize their potential to achieve at the 'next' level by better understanding the performance expectations required to excel there.

For example, we have a leadership academy that we bring to clients interested in instituting leader development programs. The backbone of the academy is an entire suite of leadership competency modules, which can be mixed and matched to deliver a tailored experience for each client. Modules focus on such topics as inspiring others, driving resiliency and finding your leadership ethos -- all fundamental leadership competencies.

3. Mentorship for staff.

Be sure that your leadership program includes a formal mentor program, where each participant is assigned a senior leader mentor with whom they can meet and discuss key concepts brought out through the training.

My clients, for example, find it is through regular reinforcement and engagement with senior leaders that staff will gain valuable perspective and feedback needed for navigating their own leadership maturity journey. Additionally, mentorship creates powerful networking opportunities that prove useful as new leaders take their positions within the business.

4. Experiential learning.

Your leadership program should be rich with experiential learning elements. You want your people to learn how to be more vulnerable and open with one another so they gain mutual respect and trust. After all, since these will be the people leading the company, it is important that they trust each other.

Clearly, a compelling case can be made for the need to extend the leadership continuum of any business with the provision of ongoing leader development. By combining the elements outlined above in forging your leadership development program, you can ensure that the next generation of leader in your company is ready to assume the helm.