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  • Human Resource Dimensions

Hunting Down High Potential Talent and Future Leaders

Leaders drive companies, create and deliver on a vision, and prepare for the future by empowering tomorrow’s leaders. Without good leadership, companies rarely move forward. But the current state of leadership is bleak.

According to a study by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School, 85% of global companies report an urgent need for employees with leadership potential, aka high-potential (HiPo) talent. The problem is, only 40% say their current high-potentials can meet their future business needs and just 21% are satisfied with the bench strength of their future leaders.

Shortage of HiPo Future Leaders

What’s driving them down?

  • Budget cuts. Many organizations are still recovering from the recession and still lack training resources. Only 23% of companies report that their budget is sufficient to meet their needs

  • Increased demand. Keeping up with the recent economic growth has created an increased need for seasoned leaders, as much as 84%

  • Aging workforce. Retiring baby boomers are leaving many strategic leadership jobs unfilled.

  • “Bad bosses.” Many business leaders aren’t accountable and don’t know how to empower their employees and develop the next generation of leaders.

  • Developing future leaders takes time. On average it takes 20 months to develop mid-level managers and 38 months for senior leaders.


They are not only faced with balancing long-term and short-term business needs, they’re grappling with budget restraints and the time commitment required to develop their leadership talent.

What Can Companies Do?

Beyond things like executive coaching, face-time with senior leaders, and joining professional organizations, one of the most successful ways to prepare your future leaders is through both formal and informal mentoring.

In fact, UNC’s research predicts that over the next 3-5 years, on-the-job mentoring will increase dramatically. Today fewer than 50% of companies offer formal mentoring, but by 2020, 80% of companies are expected to offer it.

Why the Expected Increase?

Not only is mentoring a cost-effective way to develop emerging leaders, but it keeps employees productive while they learn. But before you can mentor anyone, you first have to identify these high- potentials. And that’s not as easy as it might seem. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What qualities should you be assessing?

  • What traits make for a strong future leader?

  • How can you look beyond skillsets to understand a candidate’s leadership potential?

Top Competencies Needed From Future Leaders

UNC’s research indicates that changing times require different leadership skillsets than those thought necessary a decade ago. While the results varied slightly around the world, there was a lot of consistency across the board in terms of what competencies are needed from high-potentials.

  1. Strategic thinking

  2. Drive for results

  3. Collaborative leadership

  4. Building effective teams

  5. Change leadership

A drive for results is a highly desired competency and most high-potentials already demonstrate that in spades. But strategic thinking is the #1 skill deemed necessary for leaders. In addition, since organizations today are dealing with so much volatility, having high-potential leaders who understand transition and who can lead change initiatives is becoming more and more important.

Secret to Success

A Gallup survey of 80,000 leaders8 found that, although there are advantages to people who have more education, seniority and experience, those traits alone do NOT ensure success.

Acute Self-Awareness:

People destined for leadership success know themselves — their strengths, their weaknesses and what they need to deliver. They know what skills they need to develop to get to the level they desire. Self-diagnosing people are also self-starters. They don’t wait to be told what to do and they don’t follow a manual. They are self-correctors. But they’re also ambitious — not that they want to be the next CEO or even head up a department or team — but they want to grow as an individual.

Your challenge is to find these people and invest in them — onboard, train, coach & encourage them.

Addressing the Leadership Gap

Hiring the right people, identifying high-potentials within your organization, decreasing the time from detecting leadership potential to having fully functioning leaders, and supporting them in their ongoing development is a massive undertaking.

Quanitative and Qualitative Data:

Below we’ve identified five workplace behaviors that most directly impact performance. These are the behaviors you’ll want to develop in your future leaders.

  1. Communication

  2. Decision-making

  3. Team participation

  4. Taking action

  5. Delegation

Help high-potentials become more self-aware so they can accelerate their own development.

Behavioral data helps employees begin to understand why they’re wired for work the way they are and their specific communication styles. Similarly, they begin to see their co-workers’ differences in a much more objective way.

Once that begins, people naturally become more skillful at navigating the differences in workplace behaviors because they are looking at those differences objectively, based on scientific evidence. And, they develop strategies for how to get the most out of other folks by recognizing their natural abilities and how to make the most of them.

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