Discovering and Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

Jocelyn Bérard, M.Ps. MBA is the Vice President of International Leadership and Business Solutions (Vice-président Leadership et Solutions d’Affaires  —  Internationale) at Global Knowledge Canada

The pace of retiring baby boomers hasn’t been the expected “tsunami like” mass exodus but more like a slower undercurrent. As a result, many organizations are addressing succession management only sporadically. When today’s leaders gradually turn into tomorrow’s retirees, many companies may find themselves completely unprepared much like the frog who didn’t notice the water it was swimming in was slowly heating to a boil. In the not too far future, the need for “ready leaders” will be at a steady boiling point.

Though the applied practices of succession management are fairly new and underdeveloped, they can be used by talent management professionals to take advantage of great opportunities to impact the future supply of leaders.

High-Potential Leaders: Pinpointing the Factors

A key part of the succession management process is identifying high-potential leaders, but there are some challenging questions. What exactly is potential, and what’s the difference between potential and performance? How can leaders consistently determine potential? Surely the criteria used to measure leadership potential varies from leader to leader.

To make sure that your succession management process has value, leadership potential raters must agree on what they’re measuring and how to measure it. Consistency is key. Leaders should measure their candidates against a standardized, reliable set of leadership potential factors — the qualities, traits, or personal characteristics that underlie leadership competence and success — and be able to compare and contrast high-potential leaders based on the same set of factors. We researched the concept of high potential, not only to define it more specifically but also to develop the practices and tools to identify high-potential leaders. Through our research, experience with clients, and discussions with practitioners we isolated six factors that predict the success of future leaders. By keeping the number of factors to six, we streamline the process and make it easier for the leaders to assess high potentials.

Six Leadership Potential Factors

  1. Cognitive Complexity and Capacity
  2. Drive and Achievement Orientation
  3. Learning Orientation: Self and Others
  4. Personal and Business Ethics
  5. Motivation to Lead
  6. Social and Emotional Complexity and Capacity

Similar Factors

Various authors and research organizations identified leadership potential factors that align with our findings.

Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) offers the following definition:

A high-potential employee is someone with the ability, engagement, and aspiration to rise to and succeed in more senior leadership positions.

CLC identified 13 factors:

  • Mental/cognitive ability
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Technical/functional skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Prestige and recognition
  • Advancement and influence
  • Financial rewards, work-life balance
  • Overall job enjoyment
  • Emotional commitment
  • Rational commitment
  • Discretionary effort
  • And intent to stay

In his book, Leaders at All Levels (Jossey-Bass, 2007), Ram Charan says that people with high leadership potential:

  • Have the capacity and inclination to see things in a broader context
  • Seek information and see the broader view
  • Exhibit drive and aggression
  • Put their business on the offensive
  • Synthesize data for decisions
  • Balance inherent tensions
  • Passionately pursue learning and growth
  • Are intellectually honest and dissatisfied with the status quo
  • Have integrity and tell the truth

Related Courses
Organizational Effectiveness
Succession Management
Leadership Potential Assessment

In this article

Join the Conversation