Build Your Leaders

How to Transform High-Potential Employees Into Tomorrow's Leaders

Savvy organizations are preparing for the future by transforming high-potential employees into new-generation leaders. High-potential employees exceed expectations and exhibit loyalty, teamwork, and a positive attitude. But new-generation leaders make rain, close deals, motivate employees, and are more positive and productive at both work and home.

The transformation from high-potential employee to new-generation leader does not happen by chance; it is quite intentional. Organizations from The Recording Academy (The Grammy Awards) to State Farm Insurance hire me to give their high-potential employees the communications and leadership skills they need to succeed and grow within the organization. Using a proprietary process, I work with these men and women to facilitate self-discovery to clarify their personal perspective, true purpose, and professional image.

Just like those travelers who understand the difference between a hotel and motel, new-generation leaders know what distinguishes leadership from management. They know that to be leaders they must embrace long-range vision and negotiate change. They understand that their power comes from their ability to influence direct reports, peers, and their bosses, and that their influence must be earned by showing a genuine interest in others. They know that people follow leaders who have their best interest at heart.

Years ago, like so many young employees, I was bumped up into management because I was a good producer. No one in my firm had considered that production and management require two different skill sets, and that those skill sets are often at odds with one another.

I wanted to be a good manager. I took management courses, read a plethora of self-help books, and hired a management coach, but I still didn't hit on the right formula for management. Totally ill-equipped for my new role, I continued to make mistake after mistake. It wasn't until I looked at myself that I got it.

First, I had tried to control my employees. Then, I had tried to motivate them. But it was only when I sought to inspire them that I became a good manager. It was a principle so simple that I had missed it.

Leadership is not built upon behavior modification, manipulation, or motivation; it is grounded in intention. Instead of searching for the right combination of words and actions to produce desired behaviors, I began to put my employees' needs first and truly care about them as people. Together we worked toward the company's goals while meeting our individual needs.

Future leaders know what they stand for. They know their core values. They develop a vision, mission, purpose, and/or philosophy, and base these upon their ability to serve others. Here are some purpose statements that my clients and I have developed together:

  • "Making people feel valued and appreciated"
  • "Results by motivating people; motivating people through vision, empowerment, and fun"
  • "Be the best you can be" (borrowed from the U.S. Army)
  • "Help businesspeople increase their effectiveness and enhance their lives by improving the quality of their relationships"
  • "Passionate about causes, culture, and the people behind them"

Notice that each of these purpose statements addresses serving people. "Getting the job done makes you a success. Getting the job done through others makes you a leader. But developing people while helping them get the job done at the highest level makes you an exceptional leader," writes John C. Maxwell, one of the country's leading leadership experts, in his book The 360 Degree Leader.

Visionary leaders aren't afraid to hire people whose skills might be stronger than theirs. They are constantly striving to grow the next level of leaders below them, ensuring that the organization has a constant stream of new leadership. Highly-effective leaders know that in order to grow their people, they have to keep growing themselves.

Maxwell continues, "Most people have no idea how far they can go in life. They aim too low. The key to personal development is being more growth oriented than goal oriented." Future leaders are growth oriented; they focus on personal and professional development. They know themselves; they know their strengths and weaknesses and which ones they are willing to change (and be patient with that change).

They aren't too hard on themselves. They understand that they'll learn far more from their mistakes than from their successes. They don't take themselves too seriously.

New-generation leaders recognize, seek, and utilize the strengths of their bosses, peers, and direct reports. An international poll shows that only twenty percent of employees feel that their strengths are being used every day, and the higher the employees climb the ladder, the less likely they feel their strengths are being used. These leaders know that playing to others' strengths increases job satisfaction, retention, and performance.

No employee has it all. Our job as new-generation leaders is to create personalized environments for employees in which they can thrive. When I ran the Atlanta office of an international public relations firm, I hired a senior consultant who was one of the most creative people I knew, and she had a Rolodex as large as a car tire. Still, she could not manage traditional public relations accounts.

After trial and error she became "a marketing matchmaker," setting up strategic meetings between companies that shared similar marketing objectives. Her division quickly became one of the agency's most profitable, and she remained a loyal employee.

Future leaders are also very clear about their own strengths. They identify those skills, experiences, and attributes that make them stand out, but they are also not afraid to admit their mistakes. They know that by doing so, they engender trust.

When I train executives in presentation skills, I encourage them to be themselves. The best presenters are those who share themselves with their audiences, and highly-effective leaders are no different.

Sharing our souls does not mean becoming intimate friends with those we manage. It does mean, however, allowing employees access to our lives. Employees want to know their leaders as people, too.

Future leaders are excellent communicators; they communicate to connect. Try to get a real person on the line the next time you call a customer service department or help desk; chances are you'll end up in a maze of voice mail. Look around the restaurant at lunch and you'll see several tables where at least one person is talking on a cell phone while dining with another. Listen carefully the next time you're on the phone and you might hear the clicking of the other party's computer keyboard. E-mail, voice mail, computers, faxes, cell phones, pagers, walkie-talkies, overnight services, and messenger services. We may be in the age of communication, but we are not in the age of connection. As human-to-human interaction becomes rarer, we're seeing connection become the new currency.

Central to communicating to connect is understanding the four communications styles. Managers who are aware of communications styles are more likely to succeed at their jobs than their peers, according to a study conducted by John Sosik, associate professor of management and organization at Penn State Great Valley Graduate School.

Since ancient times, man has attempted to categorize the different communications styles, but Carl Jung was the first to scientifically study the styles. Since then others have followed, and today we have dozen of models from which to choose. While most of these models are effective, many are hard to remember and use in everyday conversation.

In my seminar "Communicating with Style" I teach participants a powerful, easy-to-remember model that supports all facets of their careers including managing, selling, negotiating, team-building, and building morale. They learn how to identify each communications style at a glance and target their message for maximum impact. Most importantly, they learn how to "flex" their communications style to match another's; subsequently, they increase their power to motivate, persuade, and influence.

Great communicators possess three attributes: likeability, credibility, and authority. When we are likeable, people feel we are someone with whom they would like to work, even socialize with after work. People trust those who are credible. When we are credible we know our stuff and we follow through on commitments. Finally, we communicate authority through three Cs: confidence, competence, and conviction.

Years ago, the Carnegie Institute of Technology analyzed the records of ten thousand people and concluded that while fifteen percent of success is due to training, intelligence, and skill, eighty-five percent of success is based upon the ability to influence people. What distinguishes new-generation leaders from high-potential employees is their ability to influence their direct reports, peers, and even bosses. Savvy organizations are growing new-tier leaders by giving high-potential employees the communications and leadership skills they need to become men and women of influence who succeed and move up in the organization.

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Copyright 2007, All rights reserved

The Career Engineer" Randy Siegel works with organizations to take high-potential employees and give them the leadership and communications skills they need to be successful as they rise through the organization. Purchase his book PowerHouse Presenting: Become the Communicator You Were Born to Be through, and subscribe to his complimentary monthly e-Newsletter at