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4 Factors that Determine a Successful HiPo Leadership Program

By John Wright on November 15, 2018

According to Gartner, most organizations are expecting 40 percent of current leadership roles to change dramatically in the next five years. The result is that companies are investing strongly in high potential (HiPo) strategies with the aim of preparing emerging leaders for these revamped leadership roles. This is a sound approach, but as you get started on this path, it’s important to recognize that identifying the people in your organization with high potential for leadership is just the first step. You must also have engaging, strategic programs in place to develop these individuals over time so they are ready to step into leadership roles when the time comes.

If you are in the process of developing a leadership program for high potential candidates, make sure it includes these four key components:

1. Buy-In from Existing Leadership

Current leaders must be invested in the development of future leaders. They are the ones who work with high potential employees every day and are keenly aware of their goals, talents, and strengths. Leaders are also the ones who will be relied on to teach, coach, and model the expected behaviors, as well as mentor and provide real-time feedback. You must have buy-in and a commitment from current leadership to identify high potential employees and move them into a development program that will benefit all parties. Current leaders should recognize a HiPo development program as an opportunity to strengthen the future of the organization, and not perceive it as a threat to their own positions.  

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

2. A Clearly Defined Path

Leadership development is a long-term and ongoing effort, and it’s important to offer regular training opportunities that consistently strengthen the abilities of your high potentials. However, each high potential candidate should have a tailored plan that helps them build specific skills and achieve personal goals that align with the organization’s goals. Without a clear path forward, HiPos don’t know what lies ahead, which could lead to disengagement and even leaving the company altogether. On the other hand, when long-term goals and milestones are clear and outlined with accurate timelines, they know that the organization is making an investment in them.

3. Personal Challenges

high potential individuals are already performing at a high level, and it’s important to recognize this. In order to maintain engagement, they must have tasks and projects that challenge them and stretch them beyond their limits. Work with each HiPo to determine their areas of interest and create personal goals that will challenge them to learn new skills and test new behaviors.

4. Learning that Can Be Applied

High potentials are hungry for new knowledge, skills, and tools  that can be applied on the job and used to accelerate their success (and the success of others!). They are not interested in attending training courses that are not relevant to their work or acquiring training materials that just sit on a shelf. Going through a training course just to check a box is not engaging to this type of employee and causes them to feel that they are wasting their time. To avoid this, select leadership programs that are designed to be immediately applied in the workplace. Consider experiential learning that allows participants to learn new concepts, test them in a safe environment, and quickly see the results of their actions.


To ensure that the investment put into developing a hipo program is realized, organizations must create a program that is engaging, attractive, and gives each high potential employee a reason to stay and a goal to work towards. A program that challenges them and is fine-tuned to their specific needs will motivate them to put forth their best effort in order to get to the next level. A successful HiPo development program will benefit both the organization and the employee. Start with a strong commitment from existing leadership to nurture the next generation and implement an ongoing program that is both personalized and appropriately challenging.

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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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