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Turning High Potentials into Trusted Leaders

















Every manager can tell you which of their direct reports are the company rock stars. When there’s an opportunity for a promotion, these are the folks that are first in line for consideration, and they’re often encouraged to throw their hat in the ring. However, just because they are top performers themselves, does that mean they will be exceptional leaders that others will be willing to follow? As an HR director, hiring manager, leader yourself, how do set them up for success to lead and develop and mentor others when their time comes?


There is a blind spot at the executive level when it comes to Leadership Development. When a company’s top performers get promoted from within, the assumption is they’ll hit the ground running and transition seamlessly into their new leadership role. However, without the most essential preparation and training, they’re not set up for the continued upward career trajectory they’ve come to rely on and have been rewarded for.

The kind of essential training I’m talking about isn’t related to technical skill development. It’s communication acumen and emotional agility; capabilities that have historically been viewed as “soft-skills.” Well, I disagree. The stats prove that listening and communication ARE NOT "soft-skills." They are hard business skills that drive productivity and profit. In fact, poor communication translates into annual losses of $524,569 for small companies and $62.4 million for large companies and $37 billion in Fortune 500 companies. Improving your company’s communication culture will most certainly yield dividends.


The most critical capability and #1 determinant of leadership influence is the ability to communicate with impact. And by this, I mean a commitment to listening to learn, the ability to make very clear requests and then hold others accountable.


If we know that high-level communication skills are essential characteristics of the most trusted and effective leaders, why is it that we wait until people are put in a position to manage others that we give them the leadership communication training they need to be successful?


When promoted, the “training” new managers go through is generally centered around learning the company’s systems and processes. But we know that millennials especially, don’t want technical skills training exclusively; where most of the 170 billion of professional development dollars are spent each year. They want opportunities to advance their careers with personal and professional development. In fact, in a recent Deloitte survey, 71% of the respondents who reported they are likely to leave their current job within 2 years said their leadership skills are not being developed.


What if we were to turn leadership development on its head and provide opportunities for every individual at every level throughout the organization to improve their communication skills? What if we set them up for success before a promotion is even on the radar? What if leadership communication training were part of the onboarding process?

If we want our top performers to be ready to assume leadership roles when the need arises, and stay in those roles long-term, we need to arm them with communication skills that set them up for success as they move upward within the company. If the people who are newly elevated into management positions already have the skills to manage and develop others, just imagine the time, money, and stress companies can save during cycles of change and growth.


Effective communication skills and Listening Intelligence aren’t intuitive to most and don’t always come easily, but they can be taught and they should be.

If every member of the organization knows how to make clear requests, delegate, set up systems of accountability, have challenging conversations, and effectively give and receive feedback, then everyone in the company, regardless of their job title, is a Leader.


So I ask, what are you doing to cultivate your company’s next generation of leadership?


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