Am I Talent? Its a Question of High Potential

Anyone with leadership aspirations will consider the question ‘Am I Talent’ as they progress in their career. And while it is not purely a question for leaders the nature of the question is directly related to subjective nature of how others consider and measure your performance.

As a subject matter expert, with specialist skills, experience and credentials it is quite clear the basis of how you are recruited or retained in a role.

In sales roles, results speak for themselves and the salesperson who does not hit targets knows exactly why they are underperforming.

So for leaders and aspiring leaders how do you know if you have what it takes? How do you know – ‘am I talent?’ or if I am High Potential…

High Potential

Firstly a caveat – you can be extremely talented and not on your organisations top talent list (sometimes referred to as High Potential or even HiPo), it just means that you are working in a very high performing organisation and if you want to build your leadership career then you need to know that you among the best in your organisation.

Website BioSpace lists 20 signs of good leadership that explain the personality and character traits of great leadership, including empathy, clarity of communication, empowerment, inspirational, accountable, authentic, loyal and calm.

Harvard research found that organisations consider the top 3-5% in the following terms:

“High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving these superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner. Moreover, they show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organization—more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.”

They point out three essential elements to being considered high potential

  1. Deliver Strong Results – Credibly – Making your number is really important but how you do it is even more important. Demonstrating trust and confidence across all your stakeholders.
  2. Master New Types of Expertise – in your early career you are recognised based on technical expertise, but as the role grows you need to gain breadth of experience and
  3. Recognise That Behaviour Counts – Outstanding leadership skills are demonstrated as leaders move from ‘fit and affiliation’ to ‘role model and teacher’.

The X Factor

Beyond the essential elements there are a few X FACTOR elements that make leaders stand out.

A Drive to Excel – being very good is not good enough. These high potentials go the extra mile and sacrifice their personal lives to ensure the result. They maintain their values but are driven by ambition to succeed.

A Catalytic Learning Capability – HiPo’s are sometimes considered relentless learners, constantly scanning for new ideas and having the cognitive capability to to absorb them and the common sense to translate learning into productivity.

An Enterprising Spirit – this characteristic shows that these individuals are confident and able to take risks, leaving career comfort zones to stretch and grow.

Dynamic Sensors – Having a heightened sense of awareness of the potential implications of a decision or course of action. High Potential Talent have a good radar on how to respond and how to manage situations, they are aware of how they are perceived and use that carefully.

An organisations leadership is built on trust Stephen M. R. Covey wrote In his book The Speed of Trust, about the leadership trusting behaviours culturally ingrained into companies known for high employee engagement.

  • Practicing accountability
  • Creating transparency
  • Confronting reality
  • Clarifying expectations
  • Listening first

Leaders sometimes referred to as Servant Leaders are authentic, they share power and status on those they are responsible for leading – which builds loyalty and performance. Marcel Schwantes (Founder of Leadership from the Core) explains that Servant Leaders have five important leadership characteristics:

  1. They spread joy and drive fear away
  2. They provide employees with meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging
  3. They foster a learning spirit within the organisation
  4. They build trust that leads to business outcomes
  5. They are open and transparent in how they communicate
Image Credit: Pexels

Career blockers to watch out for:

  • Technical arrogance – relying on subject matter expertise over the organisations goal
  • Turf protection – guarding your team, resources and accountability. Change is constant and you need to know to let go and adopt new opportunities
  • Status Quo bureaucracy – if you are caught with thinking its not broken so why change you may be stuck with the status quo.
  • Envy and Regret – both lead to stagnation and prevent you from seeing the next opportunity
  • Pride – it can get in your way by self censoring and fear of embarrassment or it can create a false sense of entitlement – either way as the proverb goes ‘Prides comes before a fall’.

Key Takeaways

  • Answering the question of ‘Am I Talent’ or am I High Potential comes down to your leadership aspirations. You can be a talented subject matter expert but if you have leadership aspirations you need to be High Potential.
  • High Potential leaders Deliver Strong Results, Master New Types of Expertise and Recognise Behaviour Matters.
  • High Potential leaders are aware of and watch out for career blockers.
This article references articles from 
Harvard Business Review (HBR)
Are You a High Potential?
by Douglas A. Ready, Jay A. Conger and Linder A. Hill
Published: June 2010

Harvard Business Review
How the Best Managers Identify and Develop Talent
by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Jonathan Kirschner
Published: 9th January 2020

20 Signs You're a Good Leader
by Editorial Staff

How To Find Hidden Leadership Talent In Your Organization
by Chris Cancialosi
Published: 19th December 2016

How Do You Know Someone Has True Leadership Skills? Look for These 5 Signs
by Marcel Schwantes
Published: 1st May 2017
Challenging Conversations—Navigating the Blockers at Work
by Art Petty
Published: 30th November 2018

The Glass Hammer
The Seven Biggest Opportunity Blockers in Career Development
by Ari L Kaplan
Published: 24th September 2008

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