“People don’t get promoted for doing their jobs really well. They get promoted by demonstrating their potential to do more.” – Tara Jaye Frank.

Confusing high-performance employees with high-potential ones is one of the pitfalls of finding the future leaders of your organization. Setting up a strong leadership pipeline and effectively coaching high-potential employees to success starts with identifying such rare subordinates. The identification process is a challenge in and of itself.

Potential is ability coupled with aspiration. 

1. Define what high potential means for your company.

The high-potential status of an employee translates differently from one organization to another. Thus, before you start your coaching efforts, you should define the characteristics your organization would like to see in an employee worthy of promotion.

  • High performance may not equal high potential, but it is one of its necessary prerequisites. High-potential employees do well in their current positions but also demonstrate the drive and ability to do more.
  • Potential means room for growth. The key difference between performance and potential is that your high performers may not all be interested in taking on more responsibility. Some may have grown so comfortable with their current positions that they are unable to move out of this comfort zone. A high-potential employee seeks out challenges and opportunities, pushing limits and challenging the status quo.
  • Another metric that defines high-potential employees is engagement. Engagement defines the personal alignment of your employee to the organizational goals and culture. Without sufficient alignment, your high-potential will be reluctant to commit, withholding performance capacity in the process.

2. Use assessments to identify talent and measure progress. 

In my book Talent Leadership, I insist on using assessments to identify future executive talent. In the context of leadership coaching, such assessments make perfect sense, helping organizations steer clear of the pitfalls of succession-planning. Such assessments help you spot your budding talent early, allowing you to create a deliberate coaching strategy.

Having benchmarked your future as well as current talent through assessments, you can leverage the data you obtain through targeted leadership coaching programs and other means of coaching in business.

Your end goal is to improve operating results by differentiating your available talent pool based on performance and potential. You have to be able to measure progress on this front through various operating metrics.

3. Create individualized, action-based coaching strategies.

A deliberate coaching strategy aimed at your high-potential reports will yield significant dividends for the individual employee as well as your entire organization.

Classroom-based programs are certainly an option in this regard, but for optimal results, an action learning-based approach, custom-tailored to individual needs, makes more sense.  

Your leadership coaching program should, therefore, include:

  • Enhanced focus on the person as a whole, above and beyond the corporate self. Pushing boundaries and challenging limits entails a personal cost, and intelligent leadership coaching manages this toll actively to avoid negative outcomes and to promote mental balance.
  • Creating a unique, personalized path for individual employees throughout the learning/development process.
  • Assistance with the integration of newly acquired information/skills into the daily lives/work of your high-potentials.
  • Mentorship, support, and encouragement throughout the development process.

Focus your mentorship on active listening and constructive feedback. 

To achieve these goals, the mentoring culture of your organization should focus on active listening and providing relevant, high-value feedback.

4. Provide disruptive feedback. 

I always stress the importance of feedback, as I consider it to be a critical element of building fresh, alternative perspectives.

The best way to deliver such feedback is through disruptive dialogue. Your high-potentials should understand the importance of such dialogue and welcome it. Diverse perspectives encourage openness and willingness to embrace lifelong learning. Continued education beyond the boundaries of formal learning is an important component of bringing potential to fruition in your future leaders.

Are you interested in learning more about coaching in business? I encourage you to keep reading my blog, and I invite you to check out my leadership coaching services.


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