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3 tips for developing your high-potential leaders

4 min read


Are the “rising stars” in your company’s leadership ranks getting the development they need?

These talented young leaders in your organization — often called “high potentials” — are those you must groom to ensure the future success of your company. According to a survey by the Center for Creative Leadership, over 50% of companies have a formal “high potential” leadership program. An additional 35% acknowledge an informal development process for up-and-coming leaders. Regardless of how your company develops promising leaders, there are steps executives can take to make certain your company has ample senior leadership candidates in the pipeline.

Here are three tips to help you make the most of your leadership development efforts.

Credit: Startup Stock Photo

Start the development process early. As with many business processes, the leadership development cycle has shortened. Gone are the days when aspiring leaders could progress through a series of extended front-line leadership assignments, gathering valuable experience over the course of many years. According to this Training Magazine article, experts indicate that the cycle time for developing executives has been cut in half, to about 15 years. This means that your current leadership should look to employees in their late 20s and early 30s to identify those with the talent to take on greater levels of responsibility.

Help them map their careers. One of the most effective ways to engage your high-potentials is also one of the easiest: sit down with them and have a conversation about their careers. The Center for Creative Leadership study found that the No. 1 answer to “What could your organization do to increase your engagement and commitment?” was “Provide career pathing and support.” Don’t assume that your high-achieving employees know exactly how to progress in their job growth — even though they’re talented, they still need coaching. And they also need to hear that their contributions matter. Consider these 12 questions to help you get the conversation started.

Encourage high-potentials to coach their peers. Over 80% of employees described as “high-potential” leaders say they actively look for ways to identify and develop other high-potential employees. Companies can capitalize on this “leaders helping other leaders succeed” approach with a peer coaching model. Mary Faulkner, who heads up the talent department for a U.S. water utility, has managed peer-coaching programs for several organizations. One of her favorite success stories is about an underperforming service center.

After three members of that center’s senior leadership team participated in peer coaching, the center outperformed the other facilities in several key metrics, including employee satisfaction and turnover. One of the benefits of a peer-coaching model, says Faulkner, is that leaders can support one another as they progress through the leadership development program. They are “able to tell their success story, and reinforce the importance of supporting each other as they grow in the organization.”

Leadership development plays a critical role in safeguarding the future health of your organization. Although your most talented players have a shorter time to grow into their executive roles than in years past, they also have ready access to two important resources: their current leaders and their leadership peers. Companies that maximize these resources will have an easier time filling that elusive leadership pipeline.

Jennifer V. Miller is a writer and leadership development consultant. Her writing and digital training materials help business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Follow her on LinkedIn and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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