Business owners are worried about handing off crucial responsibilities to their next leaders. Next leaders are frustrated that their bosses won’t entrust them with bigger decisions. Why the disconnect? In our research, there are five skills that executives are looking for to have confidence in next leaders’ ability to take on challenges.

Well-considered challenge

Executives are used to making decisions and are looking for their next leaders to step up and be part of the decision-making process. That means having the comfort to challenge perspectives of senior leaders and having the discretion to know when and how to do it.

“I want my team to challenge my decisions,” said one CEO of a large construction firm we interviewed. “I don’t want them to argue with me for the sake of arguing, but if they see a flaw in my plan, they need to be able to step up and say so.”

Get it done the right way

Most next leaders have been successful by getting a little (or a lot) more done than their peers. These past successes have sometimes come at a price, with next leaders developing communication habits or bad peer relationships that can impede future opportunities.

Talking to one executive leader who is looking to transition her business, she said, “Look. I love it when people are willing to step up, take ownership, and get the job done. I don’t love having to deal with the body count afterward. I need my team to realize that getting stuff done is an ‘and’ when it comes to their relationships rather than ‘or.’ If you’re running people over to get your projects accomplished, you’re doing it wrong.”

Kicking praise addiction

Most next leaders have thrived on the feedback they’ve gotten for their extraordinary work. As they rise in the ranks, and their reputation for excellent performance takes root, expectations shift. All of a sudden, previously well-rewarded work has become the new normal.

Dr. Jeff Belsky, one of Solutions 21’s longest-tenured coaches, describes the discussions he’s had with some of the folks he coaches. “For some, it’s ‘get over it.’ For others, it’s a little more gentle. The message is still the same. Leadership isn’t easy, and it’s not always rewarded. You have to learn how to become more intrinsically motivated if you want to make the transition from doer to decision-maker.”

Elevating the team

When executives are evaluating their next leaders, they’re not looking at just one person’s performance, rather, the performance of the whole team. Instead of seeing individual improvement, owners want to see next leaders developing their teams and, ultimately, their replacements as the next leader grows into other roles.

A financial services executive told us, “It’s great that you do well. How does your team do? Are they better because you led them? Are you developing those around you? It doesn’t get easier as you move up the ranks; if you can do it now, it shows you’ll be able to do it the rest of your career.”


Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Owners look for next leaders to take responsibility for those challenges, usually in partnership with a coach.

“I can’t coach our team to the depth I would like,” said one CEO of a 50-employee company. “That means that I need my team to take ownership of their challenges. I’m happy to provide coaching opportunities for them to get better, and even guide the process a little, but they need to show me that they can own their development.”

The challenging common thread

Most owners and executives don’t even know to tell next leaders what they need to improve.

“Honestly, I don’t even know how I learned this stuff,” admitted one large company CEO. “It’s just something I had to figure out. And until you asked, I’m not sure that I’d have been able to put my finger on it. I know it’s frustrating for my team, but there’s a lot of stuff that you just kind of learn by osmosis when you’re thrown into the fire.”

For next leaders to grow into the executives they need to become, just doing the job isn’t enough anymore. These five job duties will go a long way to bridge that gap.