It’s relatively early in your career and you’re working hard, showing the world what you can do. Maybe you’ve gotten a promotion or had a significant work success, or maybe you have just consistently exceeded the goals others have set for you. Somewhere along the line, a higher-up recognizes what you are bringing to the table, and “it” happens.

You are discovered. You’re on the radar. The right people are paying attention to your performance.

There are many terms for people like you: pre-suite, rising star, emerging leader, next leader, high potential (or, my favorite contraction, HiPo).

It can be a thrill to receive any of these designations. You get opportunities that might bypass others. It’s great visibility, and feels good, too.

Then, at some point, you feel the tension. On the one hand, you’re energized by the new, exciting opportunities your new label provides. On the other, you feel held back by your existing job duties, which become an increasing source of dissatisfaction after getting a glimpse of what it’s like to make more of an impact. It starts to feel like being a HiPo has only served to frustrate you, a taste of something that might still be years away. You might start to falter in your job, creating a question in your – and others’ – mind about whether you’re cut out for the next step.

Sound familiar? It’s the HiPo-potamus.

The HiPo-potamus is a not-quite fictional beast known to weigh down some high-potentials. Instead of being accelerated, the careers of those dragging around a HiPo-potamus can stagnate, sometimes resulting in talented performers deciding to leave the organization. What was originally intended to be a boost can have unintended consequences.

So, what to do?

Managers and leaders need to develop a deliberate communication and implementation plan that makes clear what it means to be in a HiPo in your organization. Our clients have chosen multiple pathways, from allowing HiPos to develop and lead strategic projects to our Next Leader Now program. With a deliberate effort, HiPos thrive as they’re able to continue to pursue their goals aggressively while keeping an eye on their current duties. Without a plan, being identified as a HiPo can feel condescending, amounting to little more than a label and greater scrutiny without any additional understanding of what the future might hold.

High-potential employees can avoid the trap by recognizing the benefits and pitfalls of the HiPo label. Few organizations have been intentional in their identification and development of next leaders. The promises of being identified as a rising star might not meet expectations. Learning how to win less, keeping an eye out for panda behaviors, and committing to continue to deliver excellent results – independent of label – will help you navigate the zoo that can be your career.