Every smart organization continuously looks to its future.  Identifying rising stars is a key element of that process.  How can organizations find those individuals?
A couple of things really differentiate those future leaders. They’re open to feedback, they’re receptive, they’re hungry, and they’re willing to learn.  I’ve delivered performance reviews to leaders. I can usually tell a difference when a leader is very interested in the feedback that they’re getting and asking follow-on questions and finding ways to improve, and then adapting the behavior. That’s an indicator that that is a potential leader. Now, some will flip over and just get to the result and be like, “Okay, fine,” and then move on to the next thing, and then demonstrate the same behaviors.  High-potential leaders want that feedback, they’re hungry for that feedback, and they adapt based on the feedback that they’re given.

The other thing that truly separates just average performers from really world-class performers is the ability to set a personal vision, break that vision down into some measurable, actionable steps, and then have the discipline to follow through and do those things and chart progress day-to-day-to-day. Sometimes that takes a little extra help and a coach and a mentor to guide them along, but having that and breaking that down into small, measurable chunks and executing that is a huge differentiator.


How and when does it make sense to let rising stars know that the organization sees them in that light?
If you know them and you sense that they’re open to feedback, and you see that they’re someone that can set a vision and execute on a vision, once you see that potential, you can say, “Hey, look, I’ve got leaders that are transitioning, I’m growing, things are changing. We have a need.”  Why wouldn’t you let them know immediately? Why wouldn’t we have that conversation immediately?  Because nothing feels better and gives a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness to the organization then when I know that somebody recognizes my effort and then is willing to invest in me. Once you recognize that somebody is putting forth the effort and is taking the coaching and the mentorship, there’s no downside to invest in them and letting them know, like, “Hey, I think that you’re a top performer. Let’s continue to develop and work through this.”


Once a rising star has been identified and brought along, how does an organization proceed to produce the best long-term outcomes?
The thing that will keep high-potential candidates motivated is growth. The thing that helps people grow is a challenge. If they’re a high-potential candidate, they’re going to welcome that challenge. They’re going to rise to that challenge, but we have to give them those opportunities. There’s a couple of things we have to do in that process. We have to be okay if they don’t necessarily get it 100% the first time, let’s coach them through the process and help develop and guide them along the way.  As we would say in Georgia, you can’t teach somebody to fish if you’re still holding on to the pole, right?

Something I would encourage high potentials to do as well is to just ask somebody to mentor them along the process. It’s an honor when somebody asks that. That’s one of those key differences is having that person that can give you a little bit of honest feedback from time to time that’s just willing to help you along in the process. If you don’t have a mentor, find somebody that you think would fit the bill and ask them.


How important a role does a rising star’s education play into this process?
Education is great, education is helpful, but again, it comes back to the drive and discipline to do those basic things very well. I think the ability to communicate with other people is a huge asset too. Some people have that naturally. Overall, the key, again, is going to be to know them and to know their strengths and weaknesses and work on filling it. We can fill knowledge gaps.  It’s those intangibles, those people skills that really make the difference, and those come through experience.


What are the challenges in retaining rising stars, once resources have been dedicated to their development?   Conversely, how can organizations continue to motivate and retain team members who may not necessarily be rising stars?
You’ve got to create that organizational stickiness.  58% of workers would say they’d stay at jobs with lower salaries if it meant working for a great boss. 79% who quit their jobs do it because of a lack of appreciation. What better way to show appreciation and be a great boss than the process of coaching and mentoring and giving a challenge? You’ve got somebody that’s hungry, somebody that wants to perform, the best thing we can do is feed them and take the time to have conversations with them.

As a senior leader in an organization, you’ve also got to look at leader development across the board. I think sometimes you need to think of the CEO as the CLO, the chief leadership officer. We want to invest in everybody’s leadership. The key thing is we want to move our Cs to Bs and our Bs to As, and we do that through a lot of different ways. You invest in what you identify as your high potentials, but it’s helpful to invest in everybody.