“Hi-Po Emerging Leader” – really?

Human-shaped figures filled with word cloud representing career developmentI’m not a fan of those terms – “hi-po” (or “high potential”) and “emerging leader.”

(Forgive me, please, if they’ve been applied to you. I’m sure you deserve them, and do read on to understand what I mean.)

Corporate America does a terrible job of supporting first-line managers, supervisors, and new leaders.

These are the people who have the biggest impact on the majority of any company’s employees. Which means they have a disproportionate impact on team productivity, employee engagement and retention, and, let’s face it, bottom-line results.

But most organizations, even well-meaning, employee-centric organizations, don’t do a good job of training and supporting newly-promoted fledgling leaders. (At least those well-meaning, employee-centric companies admit they’re not doing a very good job of it – but still, for some reason, they don’t work to change things.)

What does this have to do with the terms “high potential” and “emerging leader”?

Some organizations have programs in place to develop their “emerging leaders” – by which they mean those “hi-po” individuals considered worthy of extra attention. Usually, these employees are already partway along in their leadership journey, having managed to figure out at least some of this Leadership Thing on their own.

But what about the managers and supervisors who aren’t tapped as “hi-po” or “emerging”? Might they excel as leaders if they were just given some support? Could it be that at least some of the “emerging leaders” are simply working for managers who recognize that people need help crossing the gap between being an individual team member and becoming the leader of the team?

Not so incidentally, how do we suppose those non-hi-po, non-emerging employees feel about their ho-hum status? It’s not likely to motivate them to take the initiative to do better. In fact, it’s more likely to do the exact opposite – perhaps so far as to motivate them right out the door to another job.

There are two primary objections to training all first-line managers, supervisors, and new leaders.

  1. Most leadership training is expensive – sometimes insanely so.
  2. Taking a first-line leader away from their day-to-day duties for any length of time is close to impossible – as one manager commented to me in a meeting just this morning.

But thinking that these challenges mean we can’t train and support these people is wrong.

The gap between individual contribution and leadership is HUGE. Everything that makes someone successful as an individual no longer applies as a leader. And the cost of a failing leader is much higher than you might imagine.

We owe it to our companies, leaders, and teams to do better.