Most of us want to perform well and be recognized for our efforts. Companies know this well and have pay-for-performance philosophies and systems to support this mindset. But companies need more from their leaders than just top-notch performance now.
They are hungry for talent that can rapidly grow into demanding roles later. So they proactively assess your potential for jobs that are several levels above your current one. The question they ask before they decide on your next promotion is a simple one: ‘Do you have the right stuff to rapidly learn and lead in a job that is far more complex and demanding than the one you currently hold?’
But only a small pool of individuals makes it to this talent designation. Our research with hundreds of organizations shows that typically only 10 percent to 15% of an organization’s overall talent comprise that pool.
Why being designated a high potential really matters
The real reason you’ll want to strive for the designation as high-potential talent is that, once you are chosen, entirely new opportunities open up. Organizations invest their scarce development resources most heavily in their top-rated talent. The logic is straightforward. So the smartest choice is to invest those limited dollars and opportunities in individuals with the absolute greatest potential.
As a high potential leader, you can expect exciting opportunities that your peers may not get a shot at: accelerated promotions; more frequent and diverse roles; more development resources and support; and increased visibility to senior leadership.
Becoming and staying a high potential throughout your career
Our research shows that you can do specific things to be considered a high potential. Whatever process your organization has in place for assessing high-potential talent, we have discovered that five universal skills differentiate high potentials from everyone else. Over your career, the real high-potential differentiators, our X factors, are the secret sauce that distinguishes the high-potential leaders from their peers. Beyond your first or second promotion, the X-factor skills get you that high-potential designation and ensure you keep it. Your superiors will look for these factors when making the call about your future potential:
1. Situation sensing
The first X factor is the capacity to sense rapidly your boss’s unique stylistic demands and priorities. With sensing capacity, you can adapt thoughtfully to what matters most to superiors. The person most likely to assess your potential is your boss. Mess up that relationship, and you’ll totally miss a shot at the high potential designation.
2. Talent accelerating
This factor is a constellation of skills related to assessing, motivating, and guiding the many teams you’ll lead over your career. After your first job as an individual contributor, you’ll move into team leadership roles and eventually be leading teams of teams. So you need to be a quick study of talent, and masterful in developing that talent. High potentials succeed because they are able to draw deeply on the strengths and drives of the individuals they lead. In essence, your talent is built upon the talent of your team.
3. Career piloting
The third factor relates to your ability to quickly adapt to new situations by adjusting your mindset, flexing your leadership style, engaging your team and peers to solve and implement with a laser focus, and staying tightly connected to your boss. As you move up and across your organization, you’ll have more challenging assignments to develop and test your potential. Each will require remarkable versatility in terms of adapting your behavior and mindset. You’ll discover the critical importance of being highly perceptive along with being comfortable with ambiguity, and the necessity of a calm, perceptive, and relational demeanor.
4. Complexity translating
When you start out on your career, you’ll be rewarded for your ability to gather lots of data and deeply understand an issue. As you move up, your ability to integrate and simplify these same divergent sources of information is more important. From there, you’ll have to craft a compelling narrative, that is, translate complexity, for different audiences.
5. Catalytic learning
This foundational factor drives all the others. It allows you to accomplish all the other factors. Long-term high potentials are able to learn and keep learning even after establishing remarkable track records. They are deeply and broadly curious. These qualities ensure they become and stay world-class situation sensors, talent-accelerators, career pilots, and complexity translators. Most importantly, they always turn their learning into insights, initiatives and actions— all aimed at improving or transforming the status quo. They are never passive. That’s the catalytic part.
Crucially, you can develop the X factors over time with conscious effort. While your raw capabilities are important, you can cultivate the X factors throughout an entire career if you focus intently on developing them. Work hard at possessing all five skills, and they can propel your status in a wide range of organizational settings and roles, helping you to achieve that coveted high-potential ranking.
Jay Conger is Professor of leadership studies at Claremont McKenna College. Allan Church is Vice President of Global Talent Assessment and Development at PepsiCo Inc.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from The High Potential’s Advantage: Get Noticed, Impress Your Bosses, and Become a Top Leader. Copyright 2018 Jay A. Conger and Allan H. Church. All rights reserved.
Image credit: Irina Levitskaya