My last blog post discussed Dan Tobin’s new book on building a leadership development program. His first chapter deals with identifying your organization’s high-potential talent. Once high potential people are identified, the next question often is whether to tell those rising stars that they’ve been flagged as such and will be developed further.

In their June 2010 Harvard Business Review article “Are You a High Potential?” Douglas A. Ready, Jay A. Conger, and Linda A. Hill report on their 15 – 20 years of experience and recent survey of high-potential programs in 45 companies. They’ve found “a growing trend toward transparency… Executives are tired of exit interviews in which promising employees say, ‘If I had known you had plans for me and were serious about following through, I would have stayed.’”

But telling people they’re seen as rising leaders with high potential raises their expectations. If organizations don’t follow through with training and developmental opportunities there’s a high risk these key people will feel they’re being manipulated as a retention ploy. “Either approach has risks: If you don’t make the list public, you might lose your best performers; if you opt for transparency, you’ll heighten the expectation of action.”

In her HBR blog post, Are “High-Potential” Programs an Anachronism, Tammy Erickson provides a contrary point of view that today’s fast changing organizations require a rethinking of our approaches to succession planning and leadership development. “We need to recognize that individuals have the potential to grow in multiple dimensions — and not all paths do or should lead ‘up’ … all this competitive ranking and rating falls flat with many X’ers and Y’s. It’s not even that they don’t like it — they don’t get it. It doesn’t seem relevant. For many, it assumes a set of career goals and a path to get there that they don’t necessarily share.”

We find that effective succession planning and leadership development is tightly interwoven with an organization’s culture and executive team development. Earlier this year, I gave a presentation to HR executives on this. You can view my slides on Integrating Succession Planning, Culture Change, and Executive Team Development.

If you’re not responsible for succession planning or leadership development across your organization, a more related issue is whether you’re considered high potential talent. Here’s what the authors of “Are You a High Potential?” discovered are the core characteristics of high potentials:

  • Deliver Strong ResultsCredibly – making your numbers must be balanced with building trust and confidence among your colleagues and influencing a wide array of stakeholders.
  • Master New Types of Expertise – this often means transitioning from technical expertise to leading teams, developing others, and strengthening your persuasion skills and ability to influence.
  • Recognize That Behavior Counts – your performance and results first get you noticed but whether you’re now becoming a role model and teacher becomes vital to whether you’re seen as a rising future leader.

The authors go on to explain that four “X Factors of High Potentials” are drive to excel, catalytic learning ability, enterprising spirit, and dynamic sensors.

What path are you on? Whether you aspire to rise to higher levels of leadership in your organization or just keep yourself growing, these characteristics and factors are excellent checkpoints for personal development.