Is your high potential leadership program on the “Fast Track to Failure”?

Short-track Skater Bradbury Wins as 3 ahead of him fall

Most corporations are worrying about how to accelerate the development of successors for the expected exodus of “baby boomer” executives.  While the impact of the financial crisis on most 401k plans may have delayed this exodus, the demographics haven’t changed, and within 5 to 10 years, a huge number of senior leaders will need to be replaced.

In working with dozens of companies on succession management and leadership acceleration programs, I have found that most are focusing almost exclusively on the organizational side of the equation—How to identify leaders with high potential (HIPOs) and then accelerate their readiness to step into the next role.  Seldom, however, is enough attention paid to the individual side of the equation.  The underlying assumption is that being tapped as a high potential is a huge benefit to the individual, and the individual’s aspirations as well as the significant downsides of being labeled a “HIPO” often are ignored.

Bottger and Barsoux of INSEAD spell out some of these potential hazards to HIPOs in their brief article entitled “Fast Track to Failure” in last month’s Conference Board Review.  It is an open letter to newly anointed HIPOs, warning them of 4 inherent traps that can derail the most promising of careers, and well worth a quick read.

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To make sure your high potential leadership program is on the fast track to success: 

  • Clearly define what is meant by “potential” vs. “performance” or “readiness”
  • Accurately measure potential
  • Make high performance a requisite for becoming and remaining a “HIPO”
  • Avoid labeling people as “High Potential” too early
  • Make sure you are having the right conversations with HIPOs so they know they are valued and to assure your expectations are in line with their aspirations.
  • Accelerate their readiness through feedback, coaching, and action learning teams

I will expand on each of these in my future Monday morning blog posts.

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2 responses to “Is your high potential leadership program on the “Fast Track to Failure”?

  1. Succession planning is important, but what happens if the Boomer executives don’t retire as expected? After all, we are talking about energetic, creative people who are likely to have a life expectancy of 80, 90 or even 100. I can’t imagine golf holding an appeal for 30+ years.

    I think one challenges for senior leaders will be to bring the fresh thinking and skills of HIPOs into leadership ranks while taking continued advantage of the energy and wisdom of Boomer executives, perhaps in different roles.

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