The Components of a Powerful High Potential Program

High potential is all about a leader’s ability to lead at scale. It is about taking on roles of increased responsibility and scope. Traditional models of high potential look to address some of the following questions:

a) How will our high potentials grow?

b) Are they motivated to do more?

c) Do they have the intellect to learn quickly?

d) Are they agile and adaptable?

What these model miss is a focus on growth towards specific outcomes:

a) Can our high potentials balance a short-term focus with a
future growth-oriented model?

b) How capable are they at integrating complex, often competing inputs?

c) Can they inspire action from afar with minimal face-to-face interaction?

d) Do they have the courage and the confidence to make the tough trade-off decisions?

e) Can they transition from doing to leading?

At Bandelli & Associates, we believe high potential is all about a leader’s readiness for increased leadership responsibility and scope. It is about having an impact on the business from a personal, team, and organizational level. High potentials need to transition from doing to leading. They have to be capable of integrating complex information and drawing conclusions quickly. They have to inspire through influence without authority. They have to balance a focus on the here-and-now with an eye towards the future. They need the personal make up and character to lead at the enterprise level.

It is our philosophy that high potential talent exists within a model that looks at their readiness to take on roles of increased responsibility for the organization. This is what truly distinguishes the top players from the rest of the pack. Our model focuses on three areas:

  1. Personal Leadership: The real mark of a high potential leader starts with their core makeup as an individual. Do they have the internal wiring of passion, desire, and commitment to success? Do they truly understand their skills and capabilities, while being aware of their areas of development? Do they have the stamina and intellectual horsepower to process information quickly, and make decisions that will have a positive impact on the business? The answer to these questions begins the journey on expanding and increasing one’s leadership presence. It moves people from doing to leading.
  2. People Leadership: Is about expanding one’s sphere of influence to impact the people around them. It is about being able to influence without authority. It is about creating environments where people operate from a base of shared norms, values, and beliefs. The best people leaders know how to galvanize colleagues with their passion and enthusiasm for the business. They thrive in environments where their impact can be felt on multiple levels.
  3. Organizational Leadership: The third and final phase of increased responsibility occurs at the organizational level. Can leaders move beyond their function or business unit to think and operate with an enterprise mindset? Can they translate macro-economic factors into key priorities for their people to drive the business? Can they think beyond today and plan for the future? The strongest high potential leaders can operate and lead at scale. They understand the interworking of an organization and can move people to action across functions and organizational boundaries.

Identifying high potentials is just one piece of the puzzle. It is critical that they are developed with purpose. There are five critical components to the development of a powerful high potential program:

  1. Assessment: Leadership assessment is the first step. There are different ways to assess high potential talent. We recommend our Readiness for Increased Leadership Responsibility and Scope™ framework that was outlined above. Our assessment approach involves a two-hour leadership behavioral event interview that explores a leader’s strengths, the development opportunities, and their ability to lead at scale. The interview data is used in conjunction with psychometric assessment data to provide a robust snapshot of a leader’s current capabilities. There are many psychometric tools that can be used as part of the assessment phase with high potential programs. We recommend the Bandelli Leadership Competency Inventory™ which explores the ten universal and indisputable competencies of leadership effectiveness.
  2. Feedback: Feedback opens the door to insight and understanding. Data from the leadership assessment phase should be aggregated and presented back to the high potential in a manner that will help them learn and grow. The best way towards a path of behavior change is using the feedback meeting to outline a personal development plan. This will include the areas the leader wants to focus on during the duration of the high potential leadership development program.
  3. Executive Coaching or Mentoring: Once a high potential has been given feedback, and has had the chance to build a personal development plan, it is important to help them through on-going input and support. This is where an executive coach comes in. Coaching high potentials is one of the best ways to put ideas and concepts into action. A coach typically meets with the high potential on a monthly basis over the course of a six or nine-month period. They become a useful sounding board as the leader starts putting new behaviors into action. When coaching is not viable option, the use of mentoring can take its place. Typically, most high potential mentors are leaders in the company that currently lead at the level the high potential has aspirations to get to. Most mentoring relationships should be outside of the manager and direct report dynamic. Cross-functional mentors can be a great way to help high potentials grow.
  4. Executive Education: A strong high potential program has some component of executive education. This can range from seminars on key leadership competencies (e.g., vision setting, leading without authority, conflict management) to full 2-3 day off-sites focusing on personal growth and professional development. The best executive education programs are integrated into the larger ecosystem of the organization. So, for example, the company’s leadership competency model can be used as a framework for training high potentials. Topic areas can be identified and curriculum developed that covers each of the key competencies.
  5. Action Learning: The best way to cultivate new skills and capabilities is through an action learning initiative. These learning experiences typically create scenarios where high potentials can practice behaviors and actions that they have learned during the high potential program. Action learning is at its best when high potentials are given real-life business scenarios to work on. For example, if an organization is looking to pilot a new sales initiative, the action-learning initiative could involve developing the strategy that will bring the training to the sales force. As another example, if a company was thinking on deploying a new technology initiative, the action-learning project could focus on testing the new technology in one part of the business. Action learning projects are important to high potential development because they enable high potentials to focus on real problems. It also helps them work together with other high potentials in a creative, team-based environment.

High potential development is all about identifying leaders that can take on roles of greater responsibility and scope. Once high potentials are identified, the five components of a high potential leadership program that were outlined above create a powerful means for getting high potentials ready to lead at scale.

For more information on our Readiness for Increased Leadership Responsibility and Scope™ model or our capabilities around high potential leadership development programs contact us at

Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.