Coaching High Potentials: 4 Critical Steps

May 17, 2016


A commonly held definition of high potential is this: employees – leader and non-leader—who consistently and significantly outperform their peers and have the potential to assume next level roles. As discussed in the Harvard Business Review[1], high potentials have four discriminating attributes:

  1. A drive to excel,

  2. Learning agility,

  3. A passionate spirit, and

  4. An uncanny ability to detect opportunities and resolve impediments.

Coaching has evolved to become a critical development tool used to accelerate the growth of high-potentials and improve an organization’s differentiators. A Harvard Business Review study indicates that more than 94 percent of coaching engagements focus on developing the capabilities of high-potential individuals.1


Coaching can compliment and strengthen more formal high-potential leadership programs. Since the focus is on the individual, coaching can bring to life the necessary competencies, skills, and behaviors required to effectively lead or take on more significant roles in the future.


The Purpose of Coaching High Potentials


To best enhance the growth of high-potentials, effective coaches have five specific purposes:

  • To develop the capabilities of high-potentials including influencing capabilities

  • To develop acute self awareness which will enable learning agility

  • To motivate high potentials to explore, identify and achieve their potential

  • To facilitate the effective transition of high-potentials into next-level roles

  • To act as a confidential space for high-potentials to overcome self limiting beliefs

  • To enhance the interactions of the high-potential with his or her team

How To Coach High Potentials


Build a coaching culture in your organisation which is focused on learning. Creating a coaching culture starts with a plan to formally train managers in effective coaching skills. This includes questioning techniques, reframing, listening skills e.g. listening for values and beliefs, goal setting, values identification etc. This may be with an ILM level 5 certificate in coaching. Next, provide managers and leaders with external executive coaches. I will write about how to choose a coach and a coaching training provider in another post. For managers not assigned to an external coach, invite them to group leadership coaching sessions facilitated by a trained internal coach (usually a senior level business leader or HR/Talent leader) over a series of sessions.Consider accreditation of the training where appropriate and desired by high potentials.


And finally, for all managers at all levels, create peer coaching which builds a rock solid foundation of trust and enables peers to work collaboratively and in confidence around sensitive or challenging issues. It is important to ensure that this is set up well and peer coaches have the skills to coach effectively. This four-tier coaching development model allows managers to learn coaching skills in a variety of situations, to be coached, and to effectively master the skills of high-potential coaching before assuming personal accountability to accelerate high-potential performance with coaching.


Coaching supervision is also important for the coaches to give them a confidential space to reflect and continuously improve their practice. This proves an ethical basis for the coaching.


The Results of Coaching High-Potential Development


In a war for talent it is essential to attract, develop and retain your high potentials. People are what differentiate one organisation from another and one manager from another. The talent strategy also impacts on the employer branding which affects the quality of hire that an organisation attracts. Prospective employees want to know how they will be nurtured and high potentials even more so. It is their desire for learning opportunities and change that sets them apart.

So ultimately coaching high potentials impacts on the bottom line. It affects the service your employees provide, your brand engagement and therefore profits. Coaching as a one to one investment is a very personal experience and is valued by high potentials. It is increasingly becoming a requisite for high potentials.


How to Match A Coach With Your High Potential


Choose carefully. Allow the high potential to choose. The relationship they have with their coach will affect their career and their approach to it as well as their performance. External coaching is best practice as it enables safety for the High Potential to discuss work and non-work related issues that impact on their performance. It enables them to be truly honest and grow.


How To Get Started


In Good Company are an ILM Accredited Centre offering coaching qualifications. We are also experienced in group coaching with over 2000 hours. We have set up mentoring an coaching programmes for national and global clients. We offer a friendly, accessible and transformational service. Please contact us on 0800 690 6798 or for more details on how to get started or to share ideas for your own organisation.


[1] Carol Kauffman and Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review Research Report: The Realities of Executive Coaching (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009): 6.

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