*Originally published on Overdrive

As business leaders, it is important to be able to see and cultivate the employees who will be the future of the company—and direct its present course. These high potentials, as they are known, can be identified in a number of ways, but are you identifying them in your business? Or are these emerging leaders slipping through the cracks—maybe to another company that will identify their ability to rise through the company ranks?

Quite a few different metrics exist among companies and the support systems companies use, and the methods they use to identify high potentials. But a review of expert opinions on the subject shows that there is actually quite a lot of consistency across the board when it comes to what qualities high potentials have—and knowing these qualities will help you be on the lookout those who possess then in your own company.

First of all, it’s important to know how to go about finding high potentials. Yes, they may have certain definable qualities, but how do you figure out who has those qualities? Several different methods are used by different organizations, but a survey by the HR consultants ERC of twenty-six organizations revealed that the most-used practices are identification through skills and personality assessment through testing, and reviews by peers, managers, and clients.

And now, the most burning question of all—what qualities make a high potential? How can you find the emerging leaders in your company and spend the resources developing them so they can become the high level executives of tomorrow, when you want to make sure your company is in good hands? So here are the qualities based on research conducted at places such as Cornell and Rutgers.

Individuals with high potential are, unsurprisingly, ambitious. Of course, it takes a certain amount of ambition to move careers forward, but these high potentials are competitive, goal-oriented, and they take active steps to improve themselves and learn the things necessary to progress. This, naturally, takes a work ethic of steel, so make sure to recognize those people who always have their nose to the grindstone.

High potentials don’t waste time being negative and doing their own thing—it’s all about the positive with them, and they infect their peers and supervisors with their good attitudes. They’re team players, and they create long-lasting relationships with the people they work with. But they don’t merely want a team of people who are just like them; high potentials value the assets that diversity and many differing points of view can bring. And, another check on the attitude list? High potentials have a great deal of integrity and professionalism. They can be trusted to make the company not only look good, but be good, as well.

Critical Thinking & Communication
Critical thinking and strong communication skills are not possessed by every employee, but it is critical that those you select as emerging leaders do. This means they can reason their way through complicated problems and consider several options simultaneously. But critical thinking without constructive communication is useless—and again, this is where a high potential is a team player who can communicate their ideas with others, and listen to their ideas as well to come up with even better ideas.

It goes without saying that an employee who is going to move forward in their career must exhibit a broad technical expertise in whatever their role may be. Not only that, but a high potential should be able to understand their role in relation to the overall function of the company.

Last of all, a high potential must have a quality that goes beyond ambition and skill: the boldness and courage to take risks. A high potential is a risk-taker who knows that every cost-benefit analysis can’t deliver a promise of how a venture will go, and can decide whether or not to go ahead anyway, rather than be crippled by uncertainty. They know that change comes, and they adapt to it and thrive rather than holding onto past practices—and even better, they will make those changes themselves. This quality will ensure that as they move forward, your business does too.

So look around you: which of your employees are thriving where they are, and which ones are high potentials who are going to lead your company ahead?

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