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3 Core Leadership Competencies to Teach Your High-Potentials

Grooming new leaders? There are three important areas you should teach them to master.
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As your business grows, you're going to need to groom high-potential employees for leadership positions. As I discussed in an earlier piece, high-potentials are those who know their business, have the respect of others, possess ambition, can work within teams, and have the courage to make hard calls. 

But once you identify your high-potentials, it's your job to ensure they are trained and equipped with the skills necessary to create change, move agendas, and work across silos and turf. They need to learn proactive leadership skills. After all, they are the future of your company, and they need to know how to get things done.

Here are three core arenas in which high-potentials need to be trained:

1. Innovation Competence: Good leaders create an atmosphere of security, trust, and expertise to facilitate the creative process and ensure it doesn't go off course. They know how to move individuals and teams from creativity to innovation. 

That's why it's essential that high-potentials learn not only how to lead ideation, but also to make sure that the process of creativity results in concrete proposals, ideas, and prototypes that will enhance the organization. To ensure that this occurs, high-potentials need to learn the specific skills to create a safe environment where individuals and teams are not afraid to risk and will push new ideas, while collaborating and supporting each other. 

2. Political Competence: It's not enough to come up with good ideas and new innovations. Most organizations have hundreds, if not thousands, of good ideas and new innovations. The challenge is to get these ideas through the eye of the needle. That's why high-potentials need to know how to take innovations, ideas, or agendas and turn them into realities. High-potentials need to learn that it's not enough to simply have a good idea or have a mandate from higher-up; they need to anticipate resistance, create effective coalitions, map the political terrain, and get buy-in. They need to learn the micropolitical skills that leaders use every day to implement agendas and achieve results.

3. Managerial Competence: Moving ideas through the organization demands that leaders know how to keep their teams focused and make sure that they sustain momentum for results. That's why it's crucial that leaders know how to keep their teams motivated.  

But it's not enough to motivate alone. Leaders also have to develop and enhance their team members. They need to be proactive coaches and mentors; ready to help, advise, and guide without stifling or pampering. As such, high-potentials need to acquire the skills of enhancing others through career development, coaching, and reflective listening. By learning the skills of engaging and enhancing teams, high potentials can ensure effective and efficient implementation. 

Within all these three arenas, there are specific microbehavioral skills high-potentials need to master in order to lead for results. These skills can be taught and learned; they don't require a certain type of personality or a defined level of experience. They are teachable skills that can turn high-potentials into proactive leaders who can move agendas ahead in any type of organization. 

Last updated: Aug 14, 2014

SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies

Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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