Lessons from a Failed High Po

Posted May 25, 2015 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

Twenty years ago I was one of five employees selected for a yearlong “high-po” program at a big corporation. I flew to the New York headquarters multiple times – shared meals with top executives and enjoyed days of incredible learning experiences. But at the end, when the time came to take the “big job” – a job with expanded scope and many direct reports – I opted out. And my career was never quite the same after. I was no longer a “high-po” or at least not the way the company defined it.

I see this regularly with some of my coaching clients. They are super talented people who took on bigger people management roles simply because that was the only way to advance. And now, they are stressed and unhappy, burning through their energy instead of building it, and basically trying to fit in a role that doesn’t.

When did we decide that “High Potential” or “Advancement” equated only to people management roles? In my mind potential is all about expanded impact. Does this person have the potential to be a bigger influencer, thinker, seller – whatever – in a way that benefits the organization AND are they motivated to do so? I think of the business developer who is beyond brilliant at deal making. Doesn’t he/she have just as much “potential” to influence the business as the person who wants to manage the division? Or the person who stands behind a podium and delivers a message that brings people to their feet? Think of all the people they influence. Is that not “potential?”

I think we do a disservice when we limit how we define the movers and shakers in our organizations. “High potential” comes in all forms and programs and promotions need to reflect this. By linking advancement and salary increases with “people management” roles we force people to work against their grain and ultimately diminish what they can accomplish. Happy people are more productive and well….happier. As leaders, we need to first figure out what really gives us a zip – and stay true to that. And, then we need to make space for all those “high potentials” around us to find theirs. Happy Leading!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One Comment