How To Become A High Potential

We recently published an article with some advice so employees can know if they (you) are considered a “high-potential (HI PO).” It’s a quirk of corporate life that a lot of companies don’t want you to know that they hold you in such high esteem, in spite of the fact that they have your name on a list of people they hope will run the company someday, and so they hide that fact from you. More on that later.

I hope some of you read it and thought, “Most of those things apply to me. I’m feeling pretty good.”

On the other hand, some of you might have been bummed. And I want to be clear that just because you do not have the official unofficial HI PO designation, it does not mean you’re not considered valuable member of the team. Still, the perks, confidence, and security that come with being a HI PO are pretty great. So, what does it take to become a high potential?

Here’s a quick list that will get you back out there doing all of those things that will (hopefully) get you on that list.


I cannot say this enough. You are not a HI PO if you are not spectacular at what you do. Over deliver; go above and beyond for everything asked of you. If you’ve got this one down, you can keep reading. If not, stop, master your stuff, then come back once you’ve done that and read on.


Develop a point of view and be willing to be heard across the company. This also means you’re willing to take the appropriate risk in what you’re pushing. Get good at how you push it. It may go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway: those who don’t speak up will not be noticed. Being a high potential for the company means that you have to get noticed in the company, not just on your team. So, speak up in settings large enough to be considered a HI PO.

But don’t be that person who tries to get noticed for the sake of getting noticed. This is where that point of view comes in – push a point of view that you believe in. People can smell a self-promoter from the meeting down the hall. Have a perspective and something to contribute and make sure it’s contributing to something bigger than your own career. Which leads nicely into…


Think more broadly than your individual job or department requires. Being able to connect the dots from your project and department to the larger goals and strategy of the company shows that you get the bigger picture. This can help you and your team to decide what to do and what not to do. It can help you decide who you should put your energy into working closely with to make the company work. If the company needs to transform supply chain to enable that sparkly new corporate strategy, what can you do to make supply chain work? Show that you think about what the business needs and that you can work across boundaries and departments effectively– this is a must have for a leader.


Avoid falling into one of the common career traps: overcommitting to your team. Don’t be difficult to work with because you are great for your team (or department, or region, or whatever) and a nightmare for those in other parts of the company. Getting caught up in silo-ed intra-departmental competitions can earn you a reputation you don’t want. HI PO lists are built by committees so avoid being labeled as someone people either love or hate. This doesn’t mean that you should play it safe, it just means you shouldn’t make it hard for those who love your work to advocate that you’ll be a great in a different region, or that you’re a future leader who could run multiple departments.  


Our management workshop starts with the definition of successful management being about getting results through other people. Even if you’re not a manager yet, showing that you have the ability or the potential to influence a spectacular outcome without the authority that comes with being the boss is a great place to start in showing your potential.


The more relationships you have and the more people you work with, the more people have the opportunity to see how great you are. This also helps with the other pieces of the HI PO puzzle. Working with other people and building more advocates for yourself also gives you the opportunity to learn from them, and see how those dots do connect, so you can start to understand the company, its goals and its strategy, and form your own perspective.


One way to grow your contacts list is to get involved outside of your slice of the company. Volunteer for projects and opportunities in parts of the company you don’t know well. Don’t just wait until you are asked whether you want that project; show the initiative to let the company know that you want more and can handle more. I would say the most common characteristic of high potential employees is having high drive and the ability to achieve a great deal. This is especially true for early career HI POs.


Sure, this all can seem like a lot to do to put yourself in a position to get tapped as a high potential, but is it really? Be really good at your job, work well with others toward the greater good and the bigger picture, and be willing to do more seem like the advice your parents might have given you when you were just getting started in your career. But if it does seem like a lot, it might mean you are already well placed in your current role, and that it takes all that you have to be great at doing what you’re doing now. That’s ok. Remember, master your stuff before moving on to any of the other things you can do to be a HI PO, because without that, the other things will be for naught.