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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Positive Leadership: High Potentials

Today’s organisations find it challenging to locate and put in place a new generation of leadership that is both proactive and pragmatic. 

Disproportionately this new generation of leaders will come from the pool of people within an organisation, often referred to as, “high potentials.” But there’s the rub. By what criteria do we decide whether somebody is a high potential suited for a leadership position?

Face it, not everyone is a high-potential. Some have reached their potential and others are quite comfortable where they are. They are good, if not great, performers who are satisfied with their accomplishments and focused on doing what they do best.

So what are the criteria by which you evaluate whether someone can be a high-potential leader?

Here are five suggested criteria:

1. Knowledge
They know their business. Simply put, high-potential leaders are those individuals who have displayed a certain amount of accumulated expertise. This expertise may be technical or it may be based in networks, but it’s invaluable for an organisation. More importantly, they understand how their activities, their sector, and their realm of knowledge, is related to the wider organisational agenda.

2. Reputation
They have legitimacy in the eyes of others. Others in the organisation must appreciate the relevance of the knowledge base that a high-potential possesses. It’s a simple reality that having expertise or a skill base isn’t enough to make one a high-potential leader. High-potential leaders must also have the ability to garner the professional respect of others.

3. Ambition
They have a strong career mindset. We want our high potentials to be ambitious—but we want them to be ambitious in a very focused way. And the best way to get a sense of their ambition is to evaluate their commitment to their career progression. High potentials need to be committed to accumulating new responsibilities, new successes, acquiring additional knowledge, and, for better or worse, achieving additional recognition.

4. Partnering
They understand the importance of working with others. While a strong career mindset is important, high-potentials must also have a deep appreciation of partnership. A high-potential leader’s partnering ability shouldn’t be a politically correct exercise, but rather a pragmatic, tactical skill that will allow them to make better, more informed decisions. Lone-rangers and lone-wolves may be creative and ambitious, but they may not be suitable for the next leadership rung in the organisational ladder. 

5. Courage
They are bounded risk takers. High-potential leaders must understand that no matter how good they think a decision may be—they are making it under conditions of uncertainty. No matter how much information you have, no matter how many cost-benefit analyses you have done, no matter how many market surveys you have completed, a high-potential leader will know all information is limited. They’ll know that some decisions are inevitable, but they’ll also have the courage to take risks.

Identifying high-potential leaders requires an appreciation of what it is we want from our leaders. We want our leaders to know their business, and therefore knowledge is critical. We want others to accept their expertise, and therefore reputation is critical. We want them to be personally driven, and therefore ambition is essential. We want them to understand that nothing can be done alone, and therefore partnering is critical. And finally, we want them to know that nothing is guaranteed, and therefore courage is fundamental.

These five criteria, when identified appropriately—be it through skill matrixes, interviews, delineated questionnaires or peer review–will go a long way toward identifying high-potential leaders.