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How to Identify and Develop High-Potential Leaders

How to Identify and Develop High-Potential Leaders

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With the rapid changes all industries face, it is more important than ever for our employees to seek out new skills to grow and improve our companies. But the trouble is how we decide which employees will make the best leaders. Who would benefit from learning a new skill? Let’s take a look at how we can first identify high potential employees and leaders, and then how we can help them grow with target leadership training

Identify Up-and-Comings 

High potential employees are not only valuable by themselves, but they can also boost the effectiveness of other members of the team. For instance, research by Gallup found that companies that hire managers based on talent realize on average a 22% increase in productivity, a 30% increase in employee engagement scores, and a 19% decrease in turnover. So how do we determine who these employees are? Generally, a good first step is to identify your must-have leadership skills and qualities. These skills may differ based on the organization, but considering common organizational and operational challenges should offer insight into your specific needs. 

A study by the Harvard Business Review identified three markers that indicate high potential:  

  • Ability: the potential for performing in a leadership role at an executive level requires strategic thinking and the ability to adapt an organization for the long-term future: this also involves vision and imagination, as well as an entrepreneurial mindset. 
  • Social skills: high potential employees must be able to work effectively with their peers – to handle high-pressure engagements, crucial conversations, and utilize the communication skills needed to drive performance within their teams. 
  • Drive: thiscan be assessed by standardized tests that measure conscientiousness, achievement motivation, and ambition, but it can also be identified by simple observations. For example, how long an individual works to accomplish a goal, or how frequently they take on more assignments and responsibilities can clearly illustrate drive. 

You will also want to give some thought to how you gather that information. Assessments, surveys, and nominations can be helpful – an internal needs analysis of sorts – but be sure to align the goals and design of your data-gather with organizational goals. 

Develop Leadership Training 

Once you have identified your candidates, your ability to develop their potential is critical to their – and your – success. Keep in mind that these employees have “potential” but may not yet have the skills to step into a leadership role immediately. That’s where personalized leadership training comes in. Begin their transformation into effective leaders by providing them with opportunities to close their unique performance gaps. Though a one-size-fits-all leadership development approach may be more cost effective short-term, individual difference among your learners can lead to inconsistent leadership practices. So, while you design training for your must-have skills, be sure to level set their current skillsets as well. 


Leadership development tends to make the difference in business. But you have to continuous develop high-potential leaders to maintain organizational excellence going forward. So, identifying future leaders in your organization, and giving them the tools that support grow will be vital.