High-potential leaders are the future of your business. If the right people have the right stuff, your company will make it. It may even be wildly successful.

The problem? You will have to develop your talent to lead in a future that is unknown, unclear and uncertain.

HR leaders play a pivotal role in the development of high-potential leaders for current and future performance. So, 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 internal leaders with the capability to secure current and future success.

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

A coaching strategy focused on results and current needs misses the bigger picture. But the deeper value of development for high potentials is creating the proving ground for leading in ambiguity.

“Typically, organizations select and develop Hi-Pos based on notions of near- and longer-term future needs. They push competencies designed to create success within these scenarios,” O’Gorman explains. “But Hi-Pos are the leaders who will operate in an uncertain and unpredictable future; they need to adapt to whatever comes.”

Certainly, some coaching and development of Hi-Pos should focus on the “known present,” says O’Gorman. Attention should be paid to needed remedial and stretch areas, creating visibility with the right people, building networks, and strengthening competencies needed to support the organizational culture and execute current strategy.

The Unknown Future

At the same time, Hi-Pos must develop their skills and capacity to respond to the unknown.

“Agility, pattern identification, deep and detached reflection, thoughtful passion, leveraging polarities, sense making, and overall refinement of capabilities and learning capacity are top of the list,” says O’Gorman. “For example, in ambiguity, you need rapid, collective sense making. Leaders need to quickly build and use deep relationships in open networks across the right boundaries. “

Creating leader readiness for operating successfully in an unknown future might involve creating extremely challenging assignments that provide “disorienting” learning opportunities. Or, putting Hi-Pos in new, unknown roles where they practice navigating ambiguous situations by relying on new ways of thinking from others. Such challenges test Hi-Pos’ basic assumptions, and coaching can help Hi-Pos realize the long-term implications of those experiences.

Finally, HR leaders need to remember that “high-potential development is not just about Hi-Pos,” says O’Gorman. “It is about the surrounding leadership culture and the support and performance strategies the organization pursues.”

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 Hi-Pos, any coaching and development will have limited impact — and leave the organization ill-prepared for the uncertainty and change that is waiting around the corner.

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