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How Can You Nurture High Performers into Effective Leaders?

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In today’s dynamic and competitive workplace environment, identifying and cultivating some of the high performers in an organization for leadership roles is essential for organizational success.

Please note the prior sentence stated some and not all high performers. A huge mistake that organizations have made for many decades is assuming that all high performers can become effective leaders. It is not that simple.

There is a difference between being a great individual performer and becoming a successful leader. Organizations that recognize this and become more mindful in their approach to developing high performers into leaders will be more successful in properly preparing people for the challenges of leadership. 

How do we identify people that are more likely to succeed in a leadership role? In the Harvard Business Review article “How to Spot — and Develop — High-Potential Talent in Your Organization,” the authors advise us to measure the use of  

  • cognitive quotient, the consistent use of intellect that highlights the rare ability to think from multiple perspectives and the ability to focus or detect information that is not perceivable to most people; 

  • drive quotient, increasing effort at the team and organizational level to achieve results, and  

  • emotional quotient, leveraging emotional intelligence for positive outcomes. 

James W. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in their classic tome, “The Leadership Challenge,” state that consistent demonstration of competence and credibility are the foundation of leadership. And John Clayton Thomas, Emeritus Professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University, said that the groundwork for leading in public and nonprofit organizations requires a combination of emotional intelligence, viewing leadership as service, a clear set of values and a vision of what is needed to achieve those values. 


Whatever framework you choose to identify potential leaders requires the integration of those concepts and practices throughout the organization. The information used to predict leadership effectiveness must be embedded within the full cycle of human resource development. For example, how are we integrating the criteria we have selected to identify leaders into recruitment and hiring process, onboarding, job descriptions and performance management?  

Information including performance metrics, peer feedback and a keen understanding of the organization’s goals can help in identifying those who not only achieve excellence in their roles but also demonstrate potential for leadership. If this process is not followed, we are often too dependent on subjective information that might be biased by personal preferences.   

Professional Development

High performers often seek out challenges and opportunities for growth. To guide them toward leadership roles and to determine their use of the cognitive, drive and emotional quotients, we should offer targeted development opportunities. This includes participation in leadership training programs, mentorship from seasoned leaders and exposure to cross-functional projects. By allowing high performers to expand their skill set and gain a broader perspective on the business, organizations prepare them for leadership responsibilities.   

And, leadership is not solely about technical prowess; emotional intelligence plays a pivotal role. High performers may be exceptionally skilled in their roles but may need guidance in developing self-regulation, self-awareness and effective communication. Encouraging emotional intelligence through coaching with supervisors and mentors and through training can facilitate the development interpersonal skills necessary for leadership roles. 

Encouraging Innovation and Critical Thinking

Leadership demands more than just executing tasks; it requires the ability to think critically, innovate and receive and process feedback. We should encourage high performers to challenge the status quo, propose innovative solutions and think strategically about the organization’s goals. Providing a platform for future leaders to share ideas and take calculated risks will foster a culture of innovation, acceptance of setbacks and the resilience to learn from mistakes and become even more effective. 

Keep Learning

Todd Suddeth instructs the Glenn College Leadership Certificate for Public and Nonprofit Professionals. Applications are due March 22. 

Improve your skills in leading others.  


Guiding high performers to become leaders at work is an investment in the future success of any organization. By identifying, developing and supporting these individuals, we can create a pipeline of capable leaders who not only maintain high performance but also inspire and guide others towards shared goals. To consistently develop high performers into effective leaders requires the full integration of the desired values for leadership into the recruitment and performance management practices of the organization.