This is a three-part series about high-potential managers. It's intended for organizational leaders and learning & development professionals who are responsible for nurturing internal talent at the manager level.

If you're in charge of developing others in your company, you’re probably familiar with HiPo (“high-potential”) programs...and their challenges.

The cost of failing to nurture your most promising managers as leaders can mean high turnover, slow growth, and a lack of innovation. But creating a successful HiPo program can be daunting – it should account for a specific company’s culture, business, and strategy. (See HBRs extensive research on this.) So, here are some guideposts to help steer your course and avoid pitfalls along the way.

To read about how to define "HiPo employee" and to identify them, check out our first post in this series.

Guideposts for developing high potential managers - Lead Belay

Common pitfall 1: Picking winners and losers based on individual contributor performance

High-performing doers don’t necessarily transform into high-performing managers – it’s fantasy thinking, but it’s prevalent. Individual contributor performance is the number one factor when promoting someone to be a new manager. But many, if not most, individual contributor skills have nothing to do with leading others.

Everyone you entrust as professional people leaders in your organization should be considered high potential. Whether they live into that potential has more to do with internal factors – their self-motivation, empathy, care for others, and self-awareness – than what they did to get here.

Guidepost: Let high potential managers identify themselves and “earn it” 

This engenders ownership in the employee of the difficult journey of developing as a manager. It also avoids resentment and turnover among those who aren’t selected. However, your program is designed to select HiPos, watch for selection bias and balance it with objective criteria. People tend to pick people who remind them of themselves, and people tend to overestimate their own abilities and areas of strength.


Common pitfall 2: Feeding the imposter syndrome beast

When you aren't open and honest about the many challenges managers face, you perpetuate Imposter Syndrome. All but hardened narcissists feel Imposter Syndrome at times. When we're struggling we tend to think others have it figured out and what we’re doing shouldn’t be as challenging as it is for us. That's the moment when it's great to know that what we're doing is challenging for others, too.

Guidepost: Acknowledge that it’s hard to lead others professionally

Managing others professionally is hard for every manager. Managing people for the first time is especially challenging. (If someone doesn’t see it that way, they probably lack self-awareness.) You should acknowledge to your new managers that growing into a manager role is usually a very challenging transition. Be clear about that and set that tone. Give your new managers permission to talk with one another, and with their bosses, about the difficult aspects of the job.


Common pitfall 3: Expecting your best individual contributors to succeed quickly as new managers

Too often high performing individual contributors are promoted to manager and expected to figure it out on their own - and just as often this has drastic results. It can drive manager turnover and ripple through their teams. We’ve seen this cause big mistakes, misalignments, wasted time and money, and lack of innovation.

Guidepost: Give new managers time to develop, and support them through the transition

If you don’t give new managers support and time to grow they will turn to what they know: the skills that got them where they are. The temptation to lean on those skills can actually hold back the growth of management and leadership skills. New managers need support to make the transition and should not be left to figure it out through costly trial and error. The job of HR and learning departments should go well beyond getting managers in a role and giving them the basics of onboarding. Pointing them to forms, policies, and procedures; and at best, giving them a quick workshop and some canned training that’s not at all relevant to their team, their challenges, their style is a recipe for disaster.


Common pitfall 4: Treating managers like cogs in the management machine

Your people are your greatest asset is cliché because it’s true. Especially these days in an employee-driven job market. I won’t mince words here. If the guidepost for this one isn’t true for your organization, you're in for a world of people challenges in the future.

Guidepost: Treat new managers as the future of your organization

Your new managers are the future of your organization. If they aren’t considered as such then you’re probably already caught in a costly cycle of hiring senior leaders from the outside, at a premium, who may not fit your culture, mission, values, etc. On average, companies spend 18% more on outside hires for the same role and the outside hires are 61% more likely to get fired. Remind your leadership of this if you get pushback about how long it’s taking for a manager to live into the new role.


Common pitfall 5: Failing to invest in your managers as leaders

The vast majority of leadership development dollars are spent on senior levels, but the impact at that level is much harder to come by. 

Guidepost: Spend at least some of your leadership development dollars on HiPo new managers

If you're spending most, or all, of your leadership development dollars on senior leader development you're missing an opportunity. New managers, who are still developing their own style and approach, can benefit greatly from some leadership development. And because new managers haven't developed entrenched habits, high-quality leadership development is likely to make both an immediate and a lasting impact on them.


Developing your new managers as people leaders goes above and beyond your organization's success. Good bosses help their people find meaning and purpose in their work so they can live more inspired lives. We’re here to help.

Keep reading:

How to invest in your high-potential managers
What are high-potential managers and how do you identify them?


About Lead Belay

Lead Belay is a supportive, but challenging, peer-based, coach-led experience designed specifically for new managers. It’s fun, but it’s also difficult at times. It’s meant for people who want to do the work to grow as people leaders – exactly the type of people you want as your high-potentials.

Let's chat!

We'd love to hear from you!


Like it? Share it:

You may also like

Managing people is hard. Challenges are more common than you think.
Managing people is hard. Challenges are more common than you think.
21 December, 2021

Managing people today is harder than it’s ever been, and not just because of Covid. And what makes it so hard is often t...

Seven actionable tips for making difficult conversations easier
Seven actionable tips for making difficult conversations easier
31 January, 2022

Not surprisingly, difficult conversations are, well… difficult. They’re also a necessary part of leadership, and it’s es...

Avoiding Common Pitfalls for New Managers
Avoiding Common Pitfalls for New Managers
9 May, 2024

The transition from individual contributor to manager can be one of the most exciting times in anyone’s career. It can a...