Our clients often ask us about developing high potential leaders: How can they give these individuals the attention and opportunities they need to develop successfully? While that is a very important question, there are a couple of other essential questions that need to be addressed first: What does a high potential leader look like in your company? And how do you identify who those leaders are?
There are many definitions of “high potential” or HiPo. Generally, as the title suggests, high potential leaders are those who have the potential to lead your company successfully. While high potentials tend to be consistent high performers, not every high performer is also a high potential. As discussed in Harvard Business Review, high potential leaders display four key characteristics: a drive to excel, learning agility, a passionate spirit, and an uncanny ability to detect opportunities and resolve impediments.
To more specifically determine what a high potential leader looks like in your organization, it is critical to start with the business strategy. Where are you going? And what kinds of leaders will get you there? Defining a leadership model with the attributes and capabilities most critical for the future success of your organization is the first step in high potential development.
Once you have defined your leadership model, following a structured process to determine who has the potential to be that kind of leader is essential. This process is often intertwined with succession management, since high potentials are typically the same individuals named as potential successors to key positions. At ICC, we strongly advocate identifying high potential talent with objective data. ICC uses leadership assessments provided by Pinsight™, which evaluate potential leaders through live virtual simulations. Pinsight’s objective behavioral feedback identifies participants’ capabilities and readiness levels along with specific development suggestions. Without this type of assessment, the naming of high potentials can be rife with bias, even when specific criteria are provided.
With your high potential pool identified, what development activities are most valuable for these leaders? The top methods for developing high potentials tend to be the following:
- Formal leadership training, which may consist of internal programs or external programs, and may be targeted to specific development needs identified through assessments or more general leadership development.
- Job rotations and stretch assignments to continue to build on-the-job capabilities and skills and to provide experience in different regions, markets or functions of the organization.
- Executive coaching to focus on developing capabilities, facilitating effective transition into new roles, mitigating derailing behaviors and/or enhancing interactions of high-potentials with their teams.
Investing in the development of high-potential leaders is well worth it. By definition, high potentials are keen learners, and they respond well to development activities. They also know their value and will move on to other organizations if they are not recognized, rewarded and provided with opportunities.
What are you doing to grow and develop the high potential leaders in your organization?