Cultivate Great Leaders By Training High Potential Employees

October 5, 2017

Cultivate Great Leaders By Training High Potential Employees

One of the biggest mistakes any company can make is failing to engage high potential employees. These are the people who you can really build a team around, true leaders in progress. They can yield high returns on payroll investment, but they are also hard-wired for success. When they don’t feel like they are achieving enough of it, they become flight risks. Not only do you then lose a core asset, they may put their talents to use at a competing organization.


Most companies are good at recognizing high-potential employees but aren’t sure how to manage them effectively. A gut instinct may be to stand back and let them achieve -- but this is the exact opposite of how to develop them fully. High potential employees actually require more coaching than typical employees to perform at their peaks. The responsibility to provide it is yours.


An excellent resource available to you is existing leaders already within your organization. People development is Step Four in John Maxwell Company’s proven 5 Levels of Leadership model, so the leaders you call on to help develop high potential employees are also enhancing their own leadership. Lean on them to help high potential employees grow at every step of their coaching, knowing that these new leaders will also go on to help develop a new group of high-potential leaders that succeed them.


Quench the thirst for knowledge. High potential employees are not happy when they are not learning, so tap into that desire and provide ample opportunities to give them the knowledge they need to succeed. Provide customized training experiences that enable them to view challenges and opportunities from a different perspective. Keep them in an environment that is supportive to continued growth and pair them with mentors that they can learn both from and alongside as they solve problems together. Let them know how these learning experiences will keep them on roads that lead directly to promotion and success.


Build a safe haven with like-minded peers. High potential employees are natural idea generators that look at things from a broader problem-solving perspective than core employees. They need to share thoughts and bounce ideas off like-minded colleagues that “get” where they are coming from. Give them access to mentors who do not directly oversee their work so they feel secure sharing their experiences, ideas and failures. It is also often beneficial to give them access to peer groups that contain members from outside the company to foster more confidential and open exchanges.


Grant permission to fail. People logically understand that failure is a natural part of success, but high potential employees hold themselves to higher standards and can have a difficult time tempering what they know against what they feel. Failure is painful for them. A fear of failure can lead them to take fewer risks and inhibit overall performance. Give them an environment where they can fail safely so they can learn from mistakes and realize that nobody is infallible — this builds confidence with a dose of humility that prevents dangerous arrogance. Let mentors share stories of their past failures and how they overcame them.


Keep them honest with accountability for reaching their goals. Expect high potential employees to set lofty goals for themselves that they never express to others. They love to see how much they can achieve, but goals that are not shared are too safe. Employees striving for secret goals are only accountable to themselves and can easily lose motivation to reach them. Encourage them to share these goals and give them an external source of accountability to keep them working toward achieving them. These goal coaches should push them outside their comfort zones while keeping them working where they are strongest to work out the right muscles and maximize their capabilities.


It takes a deliberate investment in time, energy and resources to give high potential employees the attention they need to reach maximum heights. Once they start getting there, the return on that investment is apparent and they will lead the organization to achieve great things.

The Authors: 

Linda McGuigan is the president of corporate leadership solutions at The John Maxwell Company,which offers corporate leaders the tools required to achieve unprecedented success. With experience in senior executive management roles at companies ranging from Fortune 500 to startups, Linda has made a career out of authentic leadership and mobilizing others through an unbridled passion for people development.