By Julie Benezet:

Before your high potential talent invests elsewhere.

You may be familiar, or even said some of these typical comments we hear from senior executives:

  •  “She’s terrific on projects and magical with clients. In the meantime, her staff is hollering that they have no idea on what they are supposed to focus at any given time.”
  • “Why are so many people leaving that regional office and worse, why is nothing being said about it, much less getting addressed?”
  • “Why doesn’t one of these kids step up to take responsibility for that new initiative? I would have been all over that opportunity.”

The list goes on.

What often does not go on is a hard look at a root cause of these symptoms—Leadership is not a job that one just takes on knowing what to do. In fact, the nature of leadership is taking on challenges where their results most often are not known. To move out of the relative comfort of project and deal delivery, you have to move into the risky world of the unknown. For many, including your high potential talent, moving into that place is not an easy traverse. To do that requires two important things from you:

1.  Formalized and Deliberate Leadership Development

Your high potential talent needs your organization to provide training on what leadership actually entails. Enterprise wide thinking is far different from project delivery. Understanding who the stakeholders are in a given situation among a wide universe of possibilities, inside and outside an organization, and what they really need is hard enough. Even harder is then selling a solution for that need to the right parties. Identifying and executing on the right strategies takes high level, systems based thinking and political acumen. Both of these can and must be trained. Few come upon it naturally. For those who do, even they require a lot of practice to get good at it. The more deliberate and focused the training, the higher the probability they will build the skills and repertoire of experiences that will translate into effective leadership.

2.  Commitment to Developing Your Talent

group of people

Commit to that development. Leaders get used to leading, even when it completely stresses them out. Mentoring the next generation takes a lot of time. Too often you hear, “I know it’s important, but it’s faster if I do it myself.” Well, yes, it may be faster…short term. Longer term, you end up burning out yourself and depriving the organization of not only your energy, but also of the fresh ideas of up and coming talent.

The Flight Factor

Worse, high potential employees who are not challenged and developed will vote with their feet. Survey after survey of employee engagement supports the high correlation between career development and engagement. (See for example, the Blessing White 2013 Global Engagement Survey) With the Great Recession finally over, alternatives outside your company abound, and your high potential talent knows all too well where to find them.

The Cost of Not Developing Your High Potentials

Developing leaders is expensive.  What can be more expensive is not developing them.  For each high potential person who leaves, you could pay upwards of a year’s salary to replace him or her. The cost comes from the recruiting and bringing on board a replacement as well as the lost productivity when others have to cover the work until the new hire is found and gets up to speed.  You also lose precious company intellectual property and history.

The Ultimate Benefit to You

At times, bringing in new talent from the outside to fill a resource gap can be the right thing to do. However, wouldn’t you prefer the satisfaction of investing wisely in your current high potential talent pool, and the continuity and commitment that investment can bring?

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