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Prepping High-Potential Leaders for the Unknown

When Your Job Is to Prep Leaders for the Unknown

Elevate Sense-Making to Prepare High-Potential Leaders for the Future

High-potential leaders are the future of your business. But you have to develop them to lead in a future that is unknown, unclear, and uncertain…perhaps more so now than ever before.

As an HR professional, how can you leverage the talent needed for today’s business strategy, while prepping leaders for tomorrow’s?

Coaching is one of an organization’s best tools for developing and retaining high-potential leaders with the capability to secure current and future success.

“But, too often a hi-po’s value is defined in terms of the current business strategy,” according to Kevin O’Gorman, author of “Developing High-Potential Leaders” in The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Coaching in Organizations.

The problem is, that approach misses the bigger picture. “The deeper value of developing high-potential leaders is creating the proving ground for leading in future ambiguity.”

“Typically, organizations select and develop high-potential leaders based on notions of near- and longer-term future needs. They push competencies designed to create success within these scenarios,” O’Gorman explains.

“But high potentials are the leaders who will operate in an unpredictable future; they need to be able to adapt to whatever comes.”

Certainly, some coaching and development of your high-potential leaders should focus on the “known present,” says O’Gorman. At the same time, though, you must help high-potential leaders develop their skills and capacity to respond to the unknown future.

Facing Ambiguity, Your Hi-Pos Need Rapid, Collective Sense-Making

How do you foster sense-making among your high-potential leaders? By helping them take an active approach to making sense of the challenges they face.

Creating leader readiness for operating successfully in an unknown future might involve creating extremely challenging assignments that provide “disorienting” learning opportunities. Or, it might entail putting high-potential leaders in new, unknown roles where they practice navigating ambiguous situations by relying on new ways of thinking from others. Such heat experiences test high-potential leaders’ basic assumptions.

Combining vertical leadership development with leadership coaching can help your hi-pos realize long-term implications and wrest understanding, insight, and meaning from these experiences.

As your high-potential leaders process and make sense of the challenges, differing perspectives, and learning experiences they encounter, they “grow bigger minds” and gain larger, more advanced worldviews.

This increases their pattern identification, their ability to recognize and leverage polarities, and their learning capacity and agility. (After all, great leaders are great learners).

It also helps them find novel ways to understand business problems, thereby securing your organization’s future.

What Do High-Potential Leaders Need to Succeed?

Finally, HR leaders need to remember that high-potential leader development is not just about high-potential leaders.

It’s about the surrounding leadership culture and the support and performance strategies the organization pursues. Consider:

  • Is there a coherent leadership strategy in place for your organization that takes both the near- and long-term into account?
  • Is there a succession plan in place enabling the transfer of leadership knowledge and capacity from one set of leaders to the next generation?
  • Is there clear executive sponsorship, development, and accountability to provide a new generation of leaders?

Without a comprehensive plan for your organization’s high-potential leaders, any coaching and development will have limited impact — and leave your organization ill-prepared for the uncertainty and change that is waiting around the corner.

You also run the risk of your high-potential leaders becoming disengaged, or worse, leaving the company entirely. So consider the ways you can increase retention of high-potential talent to strengthen your leadership pipeline and secure your organization’s future in this uncertain world.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Invest in your high-potential leaders with leadership development that helps them build critical leadership skills and organizational competencies. Partner with us to design individualized leadership development for your high-potential employees, tailored to your organization’s unique context and culture.


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November 12, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff to help you and your organization's leaders at every level. Want more content like this? Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-backed articles, webinars, insights, and news about leadership development solutions sent straight to your inbox.

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