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3 Ways to Prepare High Potential Employees for Leadership Roles

Leadership development ensures that organizations are ready to overcome challenges and capitalize on business opportunities as they arise. Leaders set the tone for excellence throughout the organization and lead others to maximum performance, but these leaders must be identified and developed over time to become as effective as possible. When that happens, organizations reap tremendous benefits. Research conducted by CEB found that organizations with a strong leadership bench achieve up to two times the revenue and profit growth of organizations with a weaker bench. 

One key to developing a strong bench of capable leaders is identifying and preparing high potential individuals to lead. Preparing high potentials for positions of leadership requires understanding their unique needs, developing their soft skills, and supporting their development with a comprehensive program tailored to them. Here are three strategies for preparing high potential employees for leadership.

Prepare your high potentials of today to be your top leaders of tomorrow.

Adapt to Their Unique Development Needs 

Each individual in the organization must be developed so they can perform to their full potential, but high potentials are set apart because they demonstrate their potential early and often develop at a faster pace. For example, high potentials have a strong need for continuous learning and frequent challenges that match their capability, so they are typically already high performers. To prepare high potentials for leadership, it is important to recognize their unique development needs. They need to be taught how to:

  • Make the leap from exceptional individual performance to helping others perform to their potential
  • Lead people who may not have the same level of motivation or capability as they do
  • Provide the guidance, coaching, and feedback that others need to perform 

Build Leadership Capability and Competency

Leadership development for high potentials is critical because it can help them translate their individual effectiveness into leadership effectiveness. Becoming a strong leader requires more than a high level of technical competence. Soft skills are also necessary because they guide healthier interpersonal relations in the workplace and help leaders guide others through change and uncertainty. These skills can be taught effectively with the aid of a leadership development program that teaches individuals how to maximize the contributions and capabilities of others. By focusing on the following skills, you will be well on your way to transitioning high potentials into world-class leaders:

Develop a Comprehensive High Potential Program

Guiding high potentials’ development over time will ensure that they continually grow and sharpen their leadership skills. However, simply pulling together some training courses and calling it a high potential leadership development program is unlikely to achieve the desired results. In fact, research has found that only one in six HR professionals is satisfied with their company’s high potential program. To ensure your development program will truly prepare high potentials for leadership roles, you can take the following steps:

  • Leverage existing leaders - Ask existing leaders which skills they feel are most useful for leadership and which development experiences they believe will help emerging leaders, and include those components in your program. 
  • Provide mentorship opportunities - Pair high potentials with company leaders who can provide coaching and feedback to help them find success in real time.
  • Strengthen soft skills - Ensure high potentials have regular opportunities to learn and master soft skills.
  • Identify cross-functional training - Match high potentials with experiences in which they can encounter new challenges, processes, and people.

Preparing high potential employees for leadership roles requires more than assembling top performers and providing them with an assortment of training courses. To develop high potentials, you have to understand what makes them unique. You also must address their development needs with a comprehensive program that ensures they receive the learning, challenges, and new opportunities that will allow them to grow into effective leaders.


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Since 1991, John has acquired extensive experience in the design and delivery of a diverse portfolio of programs. In addition to his executive responsibilities as President of Leadership and Learning Events, John is considered a valued partner to many executive teams. His insight and experience enable him to effectively diagnose, design, and implement complex culture change initiatives in a collaborative and engaging manner. Moreover, John’s experience in global implementations allows him to draw from a deep well of history to create unique and customized solutions. John’s passion for developing people makes him a sought after speaker, partner and coach and is evident in the high praise he receives from clients.

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Founded in 1988, Eagle's Flight has earned its reputation as a global leader in the development and delivery of business-relevant, experiential learning programs that achieve specific training objectives and lasting behavior changes.

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