• Mar 13 2024

3 key milestones on the journey from HiPo to leader

High-potential (HiPo) employees are among an organization’s most valuable assets. These burgeoning leaders exhibit some of the characteristics that are foundational to managing others and steering strategic vision at an organization. 

However, high-potential employees don’t become high-impact leaders overnight. HiPo programs are designed to empower promising leaders with the capabilities they need to drive business impact, and nurture and shepherd an organization’s culture and mission. 

The most effective HiPo programs provide milestones by which leaders can measure their progress as they build their skills, gain confidence, and expand their sphere of influence. Read on to explore three key milestones of HiPo development.  

Milestone #1: Developing leadership presence

Developing leadership presence begins with HiPos reflecting on their personal brand. This means identifying their strengths and weaknesses and understanding how others at the organization perceive them. 

Just as with corporate brands, personal brands are the set of skills or characteristics that set leaders apart from their peers and make them memorable to others. They are the calling cards for which a leader is known and trusted among coworkers and collaborators. This trust and credibility are a leader’s greatest asset as they begin to grow their influence and effectiveness. 

When we think of consumer brands that we consistently buy or follow, there are probably 2-3 key aspects of that brand that make us return to it time and again. Those might be attractive product design, durability, or great customer service. As HiPos develop their leadership presence, they begin to identify the characteristics of their work that set them apart. 

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Most employees tapped for HiPo programs are high performers, competent at most aspects of their jobs. However, the first milestone of HiPo development is understanding where they excel. What are the skills or strengths that make a HiPo leader uniquely valuable? And how can that leader use those strengths to maximize their impact?

The most effective leaders know which knowledge and skills they lack, which they need to develop, and which they need to delegate to others in order to have the greatest impact.

As important as identifying one’s strengths is identifying one’s weaknesses. As HiPos reflect on recent work initiatives, they should consider the aspects of the work that challenged them or for which they received constructive feedback.

The purpose of identifying one’s weaknesses is not to become strong in every area; we are only human, and no leader excels at everything. The most effective leaders, however, know which knowledge and skill sets they lack, which they need to develop, and which they need to delegate to others in order to have the greatest impact. This, too, contributes to honing one’s personal brand. 

Explore a selection of ExecOnline programs that help HiPo leaders develop their leadership presence and personal brand:

Unleashing Identity-Based Strengths (Featuring Laura Morgan Roberts, UVA Darden Business School)
Strengthening Self-Advocacy (Featuring Julia Schroeder, Berkeley Executive Education)
Building Your Leadership Identity (Featuring Selena Rezvani, Thinkers50 management expert)

Milestone #2: Making strategic decisions

To become capable leaders, HiPos must develop the ability to make strategic decisions in an increasingly fast-moving and complex business environment. 

During this stage of development, HiPos elevate their focus from the goals and demands of their individual role and begin to think about organizational objectives, macroeconomic trends, and the risks associated with pursuing (or not pursuing) certain business strategies. 

The most effective leaders know that the business tactics that worked last year won’t be as effective in the future. Organizations are experiencing change from every angle – workplace dynamics, technological advancements, and changes in customer or stakeholder behavior. This pace of change will continuously require your organization to innovate to stay competitive. In order to innovate, your leaders must learn faster than the pace at which change is occurring to have a real advantage. 

For many HiPos, the mindset shift required to begin thinking strategically is one of the most challenging, and many fail to make the leap. HiPo programs can support this stage of development by curating opportunities that give aspiring leaders the frameworks they need to make strategic decisions.

But amid constant change and shifting unknowns in the business environment, how do you develop confidence in decision-making abilities? No leader has a crystal ball that tells the future (that we know of!). Instead, strategic leaders learn and apply a framework for assessing opportunities, risks, and resources to inform big decisions. 

This framework includes the ability to interpret data and derive insights to inform decisions. Developing your data literacy is critical to becoming a strategic leader. It empowers you to identify trends, which can help inform innovation. It also enables you to build resilient strategies that can be optimized according to what the data says is working and what is not working. 

For many HiPos, the mindset shift required to begin thinking strategically is one of the most challenging, and many fail to make the leap. HiPo programs can accelerate this stage of development by curating learning opportunities that give aspiring leaders the frameworks they need to make strategic decisions. 

Explore a selection of ExecOnline programs that help HiPo leaders develop strategic decision-making abilities:

Stress-Testing for Superior Decision-Making (Featuring Daylian Cain, Yale School of Management)
Seizing Breakthrough Opportunities (Featuring Rita McGrath, Columbia Business School)
Group Coaching: Operating Strategically

Milestone #3: Collaborating and Influencing

It’s not enough to have smart ideas. Influential leaders know how to work inclusively with others and leverage their diverse perspectives and skill sets to get the best results. 

Leading collaboration that involves multiple cross-functional stakeholders is a complex challenge. Each collaborator may come to the table with distinct objectives and strong opinions about the best way to approach a problem. Failing to understand and address competing perspectives can lead to missed opportunities and costly, time-consuming road blocks down the line. 

HiPo leaders must develop their influence and ability to align diverse groups to common objectives and navigate the clearest paths to success. This requires them to develop advanced capabilities in: 

Active listening: HiPos should cultivate the ability to listen attentively to others and understand their needs and concerns. Doing so fosters mutual respect and trust, laying the foundation for productive collaboration. 

Effective communication: Clear, concise, and persuasive communication is essential when leading collaboration. Leaders must present their ideas and vision in a compelling way, adapting their communication style to the stakeholders with whom they are collaborating. 

Empathy and emotional intelligence: People are not strictly rational actors. Empathetic leaders understand the emotional experiences and motivations of others, which enables them to build meaningful connections and foster an inclusive, productive environment in which collaborators feel safe and supported. 

Strategic relationship building: Cultivating strong relationships with colleagues, stakeholders, and influencers is critical for leading effective collaboration. HiPos should invest in building rapport, networking, and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships in and outside the organization to become more influential and effective. 

Negotiation and conflict resolution: Conflicting opinions will arise, and leaders must be skilled at finding common ground and negotiating win-win solutions for opposing parties. Great leaders have the ability to address disagreements and tensions constructively, and in a way that preserves relationships and team cohesion.

Great leaders become influential and effective collaborators through experience. However, HiPos can get a jump on developing the critical skills listed above through tailored leadership development. 

ExecOnline programs that help HiPo leaders hone their collaborative and influential leadership:

Practicing Inclusive Innovation (Featuring Martha Maznevski and Hayden Woodley, Ivey Business School)
Building Organizational Currency (Featuring Selena Rezvani, Thinkers50 management expert)
Collaborating Effectively with Data Teams (Featuring Mehmet Begen and Fredrik Odegaard, Ivey Business School)

Cultivating high-potential employees into impactful leaders is a multifaceted journey that requires intentional development across various stages. High-potential programs serve as catalysts, providing the necessary frameworks, tools, and experiences to accelerate this development journey. By focusing on key milestones such as leadership presence, strategic decision-making, and collaborative influence, organizations can empower their emerging leaders to navigate complexity, drive innovation, and foster a culture of excellence.


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