The Secret to Being a HIPO Today

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I often get asked by up-and-coming leaders what it takes to be considered a high potential in today’s world. But it’s not just about being anointed as a HIPO that counts, staying a HIPO is the secret.

I spend many hours in development programs with an organization’s crème de la crème – the shapers of the future. But as the saying goes, the cream does rise to the top. Even among the group of star talent, there are those that stand apart. It’s easy to spot them. These true stars make others seem irrelevant. They have staying power. Here’s what they do differently.

They make stretch a way of life. These individuals get that their past track record isn’t proof enough for bigger and better things. True HIPOs know that if they just focus on their current technical expertise they will tap out in their function and never be considered for enterprise roles. They understand that they must continually learn, be thrown into the unknown, and prove their ability to make sound decisions in realms they haven’t in the past.

They are industrious. Research has shown that high potentials work up to 20% more than other employees. But this isn’t only about how many hours they put in. What I’ve observed is an endless energy to tackle vexing and complex issues. Not just the shiny new ones, but those that are systemic and have been around for a while. They don’t let cynicism and skepticism taint their way of being. They have the passion and drive to tackle challenge after challenge.

They connect at the personal level. True HIPOs know that relating to others is a non-negotiable. This has nothing to do with charisma or extroversion either. In fact, a spotlight in this month’s Harvard Business Review illustrates this point perfectly. Stephane Kasriel, a self-proclaimed introvert-IT engineer, explains his own journey to CEO. Among his biggest challenges was getting out from behind the computer, a comfortable place for him, and engaging with others. Whether it was customers, employees or his management team, he knew that being present and listening was a key part of how he needed to spend his time.

If you think you are a HIPO, gunning to become one, or remain one, ask yourself: Am I willing to take the risks to really learn? Do I have the ability and the energy to continue to tackle the hairiest problems? And, am I someone that people want to work with and for?

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