Turbocharge HiPo Leader Growth Now

High potentials reach leadership potential through disciplined, routine practice of essential skills combined with periodic leaps. You can’t afford to wait.

Ram Charan is a consultant, speaker and author whose books have sold more than 4 million copies.

At a time of rising change and uncertainty, your company has never more urgently needed next generation leaders who can think differently.

Your company might have such leaders already but chances are they are buried at lower levels. You can’t afford to wait to move them up through incremental development steps. You need them to influence the direction of your company right away. You need them now.

The No. 1 imperative for chief learning officers should be finding their organization’s high-potential leaders, or HiPos, and accelerating their development. HiPos may not be ready for higher level decision making right now but with the right learning experiences they will get there sooner than you think.

HiPos reach leadership potential through disciplined, routine practice of essential skills combined with periodic leaps. Work with HiPos to build fundamental skills in things like selecting people, increasing the return on their time and connecting big ideas to realities on the ground.

But that’s not enough. HiPos need opportunities to take big leaps in scope and complexity. Jumping into new and difficult situations not only tests the person but it is also how HiPos build the higher order skills and judgment they’ll need to run a large organization. It accelerates growth.

Every HiPo needs the chance to stretch their capability by being thrust into unfamiliar territory. There is no substitute for the real thing. Here are suggestions to accelerate HiPos growth.

Think about horizontal moves where the HiPos can apply skills at a similar organizational level but in a new geography, function or business unit. If the right openings don’t regularly arise, you might have to unblock a job that is the best next move. The incumbent may have been an excellent performer but in the context of born-digital competitors, the requirements of many jobs are changing. Make the case that moving people will help the business reposition itself.

Look at changes in organization structure or changes in the definition of a job as an opportunity for a HiPo. A newly created position might mean that no one has the full set of skills required to fill it. Why not put a HiPo in that role? Many HR departments are undergoing a transformation as they redefine their role and adopt new tools. A HiPo with business experience might be a better fit than a traditional HR person.

Put HiPos on a team with diverse viewpoints and high-level issues. The team will benefit from their wide cognitive bandwidth, perspective and comfort with digital technology. For example, one large advertising firm takes HiPos on calls to important clients.

Create a learning experience especially for HiPos. Vindi Banga, the former CEO of Hindustan Unilever, was a management trainee when he was sent to a remote Indian village. A city person, he was a fish out of water. He built trust by talking with local people and saw the chance to improve life by creating drainage pits to eliminate the unsanitary pools of water created when villagers took care of their personal hygiene in public.

Banga persuaded the village headman to experiment and enlisted help to dig the pits. His bosses saw his ability to take constructive action and promoted him. Banga later reflected on what he called the lesson of a lifetime, saying, “I gained confidence in myself, in my ability to quickly size up a new situation and to overcome the hurdles.”

Not every HiPo will succeed in making a leap to leadership. And few will do so on their own. You’ll need to follow up with clear-eyed and fast-paced evaluations of their progress.

Are they quickly developing new skills or traits? Developing the mental acuity to sort out new situations quickly? Building the necessary information networks? Pinpointing an appropriate action plan? How well you gather these insights will determine how well you can arm your organization for the future with the highest potential leadership talent.

Ram Charan is a consultant, speaker and author whose books have sold more than 4 million copies. His latest book is “The High-Potential Leader: How to Grow Fast, Take on New Responsibilities, and Make an Impact.” He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.