Advice for High Potential Leaders

This week I am attending the i4cp (Institute for Corporate Productivity) conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Thus far, we’ve heard from practitioners, academics and authors. My notes are full of ideas and questions to consider in the weeks and months to come. Today, I’ll share an assignment given to us by Kevin Wilde, Chief Learning Officer for General Mills.
Suppose you have been asked to give advice to a high potential leader who is not part of your organization. What would you tell her? The following is a combination of the conversation we had at my table and some of John’s advice.
Don’t be overconfident. Arrogance derails many would-be leaders.tweet_bird Also, the High Potential (HiPo) designation is temporary. You cannot carry the label throughout your career. You will either realize this foreshadowed potential or you will not. In many organizations, if you review the list of HiPos from five years ago, 50% will be gone. The designation as a HiPo is a good thing; however, it is no guarantee of success. Hard work and humility will take you much farther, faster, than an inflated view of yourself and your abilities.
Learn to build relationships. Great leaders value results and relationships. While it is probably obvious to say relationships matter, many leaders miss this. They assume their HiPo status gives them a pass on this issue – it does not. Not everyone will be excited about your designation as a high potential leader. Although many relationships matter, don’t underestimate the critical importance of building relationships with your peers. Ultimately, you’ll need their help to reach your full potential.
Be clear on what you are supposed to learn. In many organizations, HiPos are given multiple opportunities to learn and grow. This often comes in the form of changing assignments. It would be wise to determine what it is you are supposed to learn at each stop on your journey. Is your current role intended to give you exposure, empathy or understanding of an area? Or, is it intended to teach you some specific competence or skill? Perhaps you are in a role to develop your ability to create and execute strategy or negotiate large contracts, or work and lead in a unionized environment. You should know the desired outcome.
Don’t say yes to everything. As a designated HiPo, the organization is placing a bet on you as a leader. The belief is you can assume greater responsibilities in the future. In order to make this bet pay off, you will likely be bombarded with “assistance.” This can take many forms: mentors, the opportunity to serve on cross-functional teams, external coaches, executive education, action learning projects, and more! Don’t feel compelled to take advantage of all this help – at least not all at once.
Never stop learning. HiPo or not, your capacity to grow will determine your capacity to lead. If for any reason - pride, pace, priorities, or any other reason, you stop learning, you are done. Leaders are learners. Don’t become complacent, lazy, or worse, arrogant. Stay hungry for knowledge and personal growth. Keep learning and you’ll have a chance to turn your potential into real contribution.[GLS_Shield]
Who do you know who needs to hear some of this advice?
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