Become Your Own High Potential: Part 1—Figure Out What You Want

High potentials are those employees that managers consider essential to their organization’s future. According to most definitions, these employees:

  1. Are below the vice president level
  2. Produce more business results (e.g., revenue, profits, productivity) than other employees
  3. Are believed to have the potential to successfully hold positions two or more levels above their current role

High potentials enjoy a kind of special status in their companies. Groomed for career advancement, they tend to enjoy more attention and mentoring from senior leaders, receive regular skill development, and get the juiciest assignments and roles. In short, it’s pretty cool to be a high potential.

But what if you are self-employed? Or too old or already too high in the organization? What if your organization doesn’t have a high potential program? Or, what if you believe you’re a high potential, but your manager hasn’t gotten the same memo?

Time to designate yourself as a high potential. Although you generally can’t demand that your organization A-list you, you can give yourself and your career the time, attention, and investment you would receive as a high potential.

In this article series on becoming your own high potential, I outline six steps to help you put yourself on your own A-list:

  1. Figure out what you want
  2. Assess your strengths, limitations, and development needs
  3. Engage in targeted professional and personal development
  4. Seek mentoring
  5. Obtain constructive experiences
  6. Identify and neutralize self-sabotage

This article will talk about Step 1, figuring out what you want. But before we get to that, let’s talk about why we need to start here. High potential programs exist to strengthen the leadership pipeline so that qualified and experienced managers are ready to step in when senior and executive positions are vacated.

All of this is well and good, and a form of this will be part of your own high potential program. However, if you are like many professionals, you may not have a clearly articulated vision and strategy outlined for your career. Without that vision and strategy, you are unlikely to know what personal and professional competencies you need. This reminds me of the words of Jack Welch, legendary former chairman and CEO of General Electric, who raised GE’s value by 4000% during his 20-year tenure:

Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.

This article will provide you with a few insights for creating, articulating, and passionately owning your vision for the rest of your career, no matter where you are in your own career lifecycle.

For example, a few years after I started my business, I found myself at a crossroads. I deeply enjoyed what I was doing, but I needed to step things up in the revenue department, and I wasn’t sure exactly how to do that or what I ultimately envisioned for my business.

I designed a week-long retreat for myself, which culminated in creating a 65-year-plan for my life. I set goals and attached specific dates to them. I also gave names to the significant events, businesses, institutions, and people I wanted in my life and even found images to depict what I thought they would look like. Thirteen years later, it is stunning how closely to these projections my life has unfolded.

Visioning can begin as simply as mentally imagining yourself flipping forward through a series of scenes, starting from today and moving forward to the end of your career. Alternately, you could imagine your retirement party. There are a variety of tools and mechanisms available to foster this imagining process, and I encourage you to take advantage of these or to create your own process.

Regardless of the specific process you use, I strongly suggest you incorporate as many senses as possible in the making and articulating of your vision:

  • Sound such as guided imagery and music are helpful for drawing out your vision, while verbal statements can help depict and cement it.
  • Scents such as essential oils or candles can stimulate perception, cognition, and emotion during the visioning process, or evoke the ambiance you imagine for your future life.
  • Movement, in the form of gestures, gazing and eye contact, posture, and how you move and hold your body, similarly evokes and reinforces perception, cognition, and emotion.
  • Touch can be incorporated by including samples of fabric or other materials that you envision surrounding you in your future life.
  • Visual elements such as images, videos, drawings, or artwork can bring to life the individuals, organizations, and scenes that will be a common part of your future life. In addition to including images of these elements, be sure to give them names as well.

Once you’ve formulated your vision and brought it to life using as many senses as possible, capture your vision in a form that you can revisit repeatedly, such as in a physical album or collection of items, a video or slide deck, or a written narrative.

Have you defined a vision for your personal and professional life? What was the experience like? What did you find helpful when doing so?